Dubai: At the age of 78, most people are winding down and thinking how they can spend their golden days relaxing. For Giovanni Potenza, his eyes are firmly set on preparations for the 17th edition of Dubai Holding SkyRun that will see him climb the 52 floors of Jumeirah Emirates Towers in just a matter of minutes.
The Italian ‘sky runner’ is one of a growing band of endurance athletes who take on the annual challenge to scale the tower’s 1,334 steps in aid of the Al Jalila Foundation. Proceeds from Dubai Holding SkyRun 2022 will be donated to Al Jalila Foundation’s Majlis Al Amal, the UAE’s first cancer drop-in centre and the first of its kind community centre dedicated to female cancer patients and their wellbeing.
The popular event is the only official stairclimbing race in Dubai and is held in partnership with the International Skyrunning Federation, Dubai Sports Council, Al Jalila Foundation and Jumeirah Emirates Towers.
It is not the first time Potenza has taken on the challenging event. In 2019, he completed the stairclimbing race three times in a row - with an average time of 13 minutes to complete the climb. The back-to-back runs set a new record for the 78-year-old, and he can’t wait to hit the stairs again on November 12 for the latest edition of Dubai Holding SkyRun.
“In Dubai, I feel a special passion like nowhere else, maybe also thanks to the fabulous environment where the race takes place,” Potenza said. “The audience is outstanding and gives me a priceless energy and desire to win and do the best I can to achieve my best goals. Dubai will always live in my heart.”
The 2022 event will be the latest notch in Potenza’s athletic career, which has seen him accumulate a number of accomplishments. Five years ago, in London in July 2018, he scaled 70 floors of a city sky-rise in 15 minutes, while in April 2019 Potenza visited Milan and scaled 50 floors in 10 minutes, before heading to New York in June, climbing 100 floors in 22 minutes. In November 2019, he returned to the UK for another sky running event and climbed 105 floors in just 23 minutes.
Other challenges completed include at the Canton of Ticino in Airolo, Switzerland in October 2021. While not in a skyscraper, he still notched up 4261 steps in the outdoor race - equivalent to 200 floors in 57 minutes, and shaved three minutes of his time in the same event in 2022.
Despite his lengthy roll of honour, Potenza said his 2019 participation in the Dubai Holding SkyRun was his favorite and most important race.
To be in top physical shape to reach the summit of a skyscraper, Potenza follows a strict diet and training routine.
“There are many things to think about when training for the Dubai Holding SkyRun,” he said. “Everything starts from mind and willpower; they are super important if you want to keep on improving. They say, train hard, win easy - and it’s true. I train hard every day for about two hours, both in town on asphalt as well as along the beach or up to the mountains in the snow where there is less oxygen. I always wear 1kg ankle weights and a backpack.”
Potenza said a healthy diet and good rest are helpful tools to develop more power, but there is one thing, he said, you cannot teach.
“Basically, passion is the secret if you want to challenge yourself to always reach better results. There is no particular technique for climbing stairs, only a lot of determination, athletic preparation, passion, and willpower and a powerful mind.”
‘I’m old but gold’
Even with all the endurance events under his belt, the Italian shows little sign of slowing up anytime soon and brushes off any thoughts of retirement from the sport he loves.
“My biggest career achievement would be joining as many races as possible I can despite my 78 years of age,” he said. “I am old but gold.”
Dubai Holding SkyRun 2022 will be open across three categories: Elite, Open and Teams (of four). Dubai Holding will award the top three male and female runners from the “Elite” category as well as the top three teams from the “Teams” category. The Group will also recognise the participation of people of determination in the race. The top three female and male winners from the “Elite” category as well as the fastest team within the “Teams” category will receive cash prizes from Dubai Holding.
An official race of the Dubai Sports Council’s annual sporting calendar, the Dubai Holding SkyRun is also a flagship event of the Dubai Fitness Challenge (DFC), an initiative launched in 2017 by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council. DFC encourages residents and visitors to adopt a healthier and active lifestyle by committing to exercise 30 minutes of activity, daily for 30 days.
Dubai Holding SkyRun 2019 witnessed record participation of over 500 runners, including 27 teams, 18 international elite runners and 100 female runners. The diverse participants represented 53 countries, people of different ages with the youngest runner aged 16 and the oldest aged 77, in addition to the enthusiastic participation by people of determination.
A new course record was set by Piotr Lodzinski at six minutes and 55 seconds, while the fastest female runner, Suzanne Walsham, finished in 8.03 minutes.
People can register for the vertical race on the event’s dhskyrun website.