BEIRUT: Counting more than 27,000 model cars, trying to halt a 5,000-strong dabke troop, and measuring some 3 kilometers of veil to find the bride at the end of it – such undertakings are all in a day’s work in Lebanon for Talal Omar, head of the Guinness World Records Middle East operations.
For four years Omar has adjudicated Guinness World Record attempts across the region, but he has only just relocated to Dubai to head up the organization’s first Middle East office, the opening of which was announced Tuesday.
Previously based out of London, Omar would travel “once per week to verify a record,” he tells The Daily Star in a phone interview, explaining that his relocation is in direct response to the huge growth in record-breaking attempts across the region.
In 2012, record attempts made in the United Arab Emirates grew by 130 percent, according to GWR, while in Saudi Arabia they grew by 105 percent.
Unsurprisingly, these countries rank first and joint second in the region for the most records held.
The UAE, Omar says, holds 110 titles, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt have 40-43 each, with some titles being traded back and forth as they are repeatedly challenged.
Lebanon, which holds among its diverse titles “longest sandwich,” “largest hotel suite” and “tallest matchstick model,” comes in fourth with 25 records to its name, Omar adds.
Omar himself has adjudicated between seven and 10 records here.
His favorite? “Largest dabke dance,” a record the municipality of Dhour Choueir achieved on Aug. 7, 2011.
“I really enjoyed it,” Omar says, “so many people holding hands and dancing in the street.”
More specifically “so many people” is 5,050 enthusiastic dancers.
“We asked them to dance for five minutes, but we couldn’t stop them after 15,” Omar laughs.
Since it first published its world records book in 1955, Guinness World Records has been the global authority on record-breaking achievements, pushing groups and individuals to reach for ever more outlandish achievements.
Most recently Omar adjudicated a successful record attempt by Lebanese Abdo Feghali at the “longest drift in a vehicle” at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
The rally champion drifted in a Chevrolet Camaro for an astounding 11,180 meters in 14.18 minutes.
Feghali only came to a stop, Omar says, when one of his tires blew. “It was quite amazing to see,” he adds.
Constantly challenged records like the longest drift are exactly the sort GWR tries to nurture.
Always on the hunt for new record suggestions, Omar says GWR applies three criteria: “[Records] have to be measurable, verifiable and breakable.”
The record management team meets twice a week to assess new ideas, and there are often suggestions from the Middle East, he adds.
Among the most popular contests in Lebanon has been the battle to hold on to the “largest serving of hummus” record, a title the country’s southern neighbor covets just as much.
Regarding this ongoing struggle between Lebanon and Israel, Omar says, “It’s nice to see competition; it’s better than war.”
In its quest for the biggest, longest, fastest, GWR doesn’t embroil itself in political or social debates. “We don’t look at culture, religion or color; we’re just there for the record itself,” he says.
For what it’s worth, however, presently Lebanon retains the hummus title for its 10,452 kg bowl made on May 8, 2010.
Moreover, records do sometimes take on a humanitarian or charity element, and these, Omar says, are “the closest to me.”
Jordan, for example, is currently trying to set the record for the most people to sign up as organ donors within one hour.
Another aspect of his job that Omar loves is witnessing individuals excel in their particular field of choice. One Lebanese record stands out for him in this regard. In 2009, Toufic Daher, a person with disabilities, built the tallest matchstick model in the world. The 6.53 meter replica of the Eifel tower comprises, Omar says, some 6 million matchsticks. It was unveiled at Beirut’s City Mall on Nov. 11, 2009, in celebration of Guinness World Records day.
“His disability didn’t stop him,” Omar says of Daher’s achievement.
But being a world records adjudicator can border on the absurd. Omar once counted the 27,777 unique items in Nabil Karam’s Zouk museum to declare the Lebanese man the holder of the “largest collection of model cars” title. “I had to count everything!” he says.
On another occasion, Omar witnessed a young Lebanese bride wear the longest train in the world. On Oct. 18, 2009, Sandra Mechleb walked down the aisle toward her husband with 3,358 meters of flowing veil in her wake.
But far from viewing such achievements as ludicrous, Omar lauds the efforts of the record-breakers he meets.
“It’s nice to work with people who are the best at what they do,” he says. “There is no limit to human ambition.”