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August 3, 2012

England introduces a delicious set of competitions
By Francine Cohen

Didn’t get your ticket to the Olympics and feeling a bit like those athletes who didn’t make the team? Not to fear. Lest you think that Michael Phelps, those naughty badminton players, naughty tweets, and the sprightly gymnasts are all that’s worth paying attention to during this Olympic year in London, please note that England has a lot more to offer than just bronze, silver and gold medals.

For those who prefer spectator sports of the less energetic and more delicious kind there were (and still are) a whole slew of competitions of athletic prowess in which one could participate, or just enjoy.

VisitEngland’s Chairman Lady Cobham says: “This year is a fantastic time to be in England, and not just for Olympic and Paralympic sports enthusiasts. The range of alternative sports taking place across the country is evidence of this – there is something for everyone and these unusual events really bring to the fore some of our country’s quirkier heritage and culture. In addition to these annual competitions, there will be hundreds of events and festivals taking place in a jam-packed cultural and sporting calendar.

Thanks to Lady Cobham ( here’s a line-up of the most interesting alternative (and food related) activities we found going on across the pond this year.

1. Pancake Dashing
February 21, 2012 (Shrove Tuesday), Olney, Buckinghamshire
The unique Olney Pancake Race literally stops traffic as, once a year, energetic local ladies in traditional housewife attire (including skirt, apron and scarf), run through the streets of Olney. The 415-yard dash is started by the church warden at 11.55am prompt using a large bronze ‘Pancake Bell.’ Pancakes are tossed at the start of the race and the winner is required to toss her pancake again at the finish. The race has been run since around 1445 and since 1950, the contest has been an international event between Olney and the town of Liberal, Kansas in the US. The race is run on a timed basis and the winner is declared after times are compared during a transatlantic telephone call.

2. Coal Carrying
April 9, 2012, Ossett, West Yorkshire
Held each year on Easter Monday, the World Coal Carrying Contest is a great test of strength and stamina in which participants carry 50kg (men) or 20kg (women) of coal over a mile-long uphill course. The World Coal Carrying Contest dates back to 1963 when a local coal merchant and the president of the Maypole Committee were enjoying a pint together. A friend burst into the pub and bet that he could race them with a bag of coal on their backs. Not to let a good idea go to waste, the secretary of the Maypole Committee decided to set the race for Easter Monday. The current world record, held by David Jones of Meltham, is 4 mins 6 secs. But will he hold onto it?

3. Shin-Kicking
June 1, 2012, Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
Started by local barrister Captain Robert Dover in 1612, the annual Cotswold Olimpicks attracts thousands of spectators and features some well-known countryside games such as tug-of-war, obstacle races and wrestling as well as a few stranger events – including shin-kicking. The two contestants first fill their trouser legs with straw – to help reduce the pain – before holding one another’s arms and kicking each other wearing steel toe-capped boots. The loser is the competitor that gives in to the pain and bruising first. 2012 marks the Olimpicks’ 400th anniversary, so expect some special celebrations this year. Continue Reading…