Jurgen Thoelen’s Gladiators’ Race


How long have you been in Russia, why did you come here?

I’ve been here for around 5 years. I came here with a multinational, Nokia-Siemens. I headed business development for them out of their regional headquarters in Russia. I left them after a couple of years and started working with my own company.

Do you like Russia?

Yes, I quite like it, because of the combination of city life and the outdoors. The moment you go out of the city, it’s a different world.

Are you are an outdoor man?

Yes. The company I had before was an outdoor adventure company, we used to do the usual things — rafting, all that stuff, in Russia. I spent four years before that in Dubai, where we did desert trips. This was all at the same time as working for Nokia Siemens there.

What are you doing now?

I am the COO of a Belgian company Soulco, a IT System Integrator working mainly in Middle East and Africa. I do that during the week, and at the weekend I spend all my time on Gladiators’ race.

Selection_012Who is Gladiators race for?

It’s for Russians.

Do you speak Russian?

No, I am still learning. But my team does.

Tell us what this Gladiators’ race is all about.

The idea is that people like to have fun, they like to not just run, they like to crawl and climb over stuff. As soon as you get people in a place where they can do this, you see that they really love it. It is something that already exists abroad; I saw it in the US. I have many friends who participate in this event quite a lot in the US. When it came to Europe, the idea was always to start something like that in Russia. But it took a while before we really got going.

Selection_011Specifically, how does Gladiators’ Race work?

It combines running, which everyone can do, for 5, 10 kilometres or even longer distances, with military obstacles like walls, crawling under barbed wire, running though mud, all that. It is mostly for people who do sports already, who like the competition aspect, but we also have a lot of people who never do sports, and this is a lot of fun for them to take part in, because you are doing this outdoors, not in the gym.

What’s the biggest difference between Gladiators’ race in the US and in Russia?

At the moment, the only main difference is the size. The main race centre there started in 2012 and it has been growing exponentially. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Somehow, Russia skipped all of this, I don’t know why, because in a lot of the other East European countries it is there, but it never really started in Russia. Participants in Russia are a bit younger than in the States, with an average age of about 27 years old, and quite into sports. Older people perhaps don’t realise that they can also participate. In the States, you have a much wider age range taking part. The fastest time to complete the 5 kilometre race is 30 minutes, They might take 2 hours, but it doesn’t matter, they just need to reach the end, and that’s it.

Does that mean that there is an ageism thing attached to sports here?

I’m not sure, I think when you go to a gym here, you see something else immediately. Most people take it very seriously, they are almost at athlete level, and many have a background in sports, you also have people who have no sporting background at all and who never got to a gym! Whereas in Europe and the US, you have many more people who go to the gym maybe once or twice a month. In my opinion, this doesn’t seem to happen so much in Russia. Maybe the reason is because gyms are expensive here.

Have you noticed a drop off in people attending your events since this crisis started?

No, and for us it’s actually been quite a good thing because a lot of young people who used to go abroad to travel are not staying in Russia, because tickets for the flights got expensive. So we see a larger number of people who are interested in doing things in Russia itself.

What is your aim in the future?

Our aim is to have one or two races every month, but it should be a Russia-wide phenomenon, so the goal is to hold a race in the 10 biggest cities in Russia and then hold a championship. We have Reebok as a sponsor, and they have agreed to sponsor sending the best athletes to the US, and actually Reebok is interested in creating a professional team. So we are holding all sorts of discussions about how to do that.

Do you like the women here?

Yes of course, it’s dangerous to say, but we see that a very high percentage of the participants are women, although there are still more men than women, but that is normal for sports.