Pancake race unites food, competition

Many moons ago, some Klein?sasser relatives from California traveled to Hills?boro for a family reunion. Given our state?s, shall we say, conservative bent, they had to chuckle when driving through Liberal.

Some would say Liberal, Kan., is an oxymoron, but that?s a column for another day.

My purpose for writing this column is not to discuss the history of Liberal, but to tout the international sporting event that has long piqued my interest?the great international pancake race between Liberal and Olney, England.

Who needs the Olympics when we have an annual pancake race right in our backyard? Granted, I?m using backyard in a loose sense, because Liberal is roughly a four-hour drive from Hillsboro. Still, it?s a lot easier and more affordable than traveling to Olney.

It?s a great event because it offers everything sports fans love?competition and food.

In my research, I learned that Pancake Day dates back to 1445 in Olney, when one woman was busy preparing her pancakes when the church bell rang, signaling the time for her to go to church to be ?shriven? of her sins.

According to the dictionary, shriven is a past participle of shrive, which is a verb defined as to impose penance on a sinner, to grant absolution to a penitent and to hear the confession of a person.

The woman reportedly started baking her pancakes rather late. They were not quite finished when the church bell rang. So, not wishing to leave her pancakes to burn, she grabbed her griddle and pancakes and ran in her apron to the church, becoming the first pancake racer.

In 1950, the Liberal Jay?cees contacted the Rev. R.W. Collins, a vicar in Olney, to propose an international competition. Since then, Olney and Liberal have raced against each other, keeping a running score of race winners. Times of the winners in Olney and Liberal are compared by Trans-Atlantic telephone and an international winner is declared.

The event is always on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent. Some refer to it as ?Fat Tuesday.?

Last year, a runner from Olney won the competition. If you?re keeping score, Liberal still leads the competition 36-27. The race in 1980 didn?t count because a media truck blocked the course in Olney. I?m not making this up.

Weather is clearly a factor. Last year, crews in Liberal had to use blowtorches to dry the icy and wet streets.

Racers must still wear a headscarf and apron and the runner must flip her pancake at the starting signal, and again after crossing the finish line, to prove she still has her pancake.

International Pancake Day in Liberal has expanded into a four-day event, beginning with pancake eating and flipping contests, a cooking contest and a parade. Other events include a talent show, the races and a shriving service. This year?s race is schedule for Tuesday of this week.

Why should we let Liberal have all the fun? Surely we could come up with an event worthy of international competition.

With our German heritage, perhaps we could start a competition with Germany or Russia.

Perhaps we could have a Red Winter Wheat race? The race could be a relay with two men and two women each running 200 yards before passing a baton, which would be a thick stalk of wheat.

Or, maybe we should have a honey and zweibach contest. It could get a little sticky, but a race among competitors eating bread and honey while running has potential.

Another option would be having an international verenika and sausage race. During a one-mile run, the competitor with the best time while eating three verenika and three 4-inch pieces of sausage, wins. Of course, you are disqualified if you upchuck within 30 minutes of the finish.

Winning really isn?t all that important. With food like that, there are no losers.

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