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Racing with pancakes in Kansas

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By Wayne Lazarus on January 11th, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

While many people are celebrating Mardi Gras just before Lent, some women in Liberal, Kansas are stretching ham-strings and flexing wrists. That’s because Shrove Tuesday is the date of the International Pancake Race — when Liberal ladies pit their speed and flipping skill against women in Olney, England.

pancake day muralThis international competition has taken place for 60 years, with the results slightly in favor of the Americans. The race originated in Olney during the fifteenth century. One woman, cooking pancakes in order to use up sugar and fat before the fasting that accompanies Lent, heard the bells ringing, signaling the beginning of church. She rushed out the door, carrying the skillet with its pancake. Apparently she did grab her head scarf (a requirement for to enter the church) and still had on her apron, so contestants ever since wear a scarf and apron and carry a skillet. They must have a pancake in the skillet to flip at both the beginning and the end of the race.

The Liberal Jaycees learned of the race in 1950 and challenged Olney. In 2009, the International Pancake Race celebrated its 60th anniversary and the mayor of Olney and his wife visited Liberal to present the prize to Liberal’s winner — “a kiss of peace.”

Tasha Gallegos nears the finish line in the 2009 International Pancake Day Race. Gallegos set a new record of 57.5 seconds in the 415-yard race.

Tasha Gallegos nears the finish line in the 2009 International Pancake Day Race. Gallegos set a new record of 57.5 seconds in the 415-yard race.

This year the International Pancake Race will be held February 16. Liberal residents celebrate for four days, with pancake-eating, cooking and flipping contests, a talent show, pancake breakfast (of course!) the Miss Liberal pageant and an authentic English High Tea. Liberal is located in southwestern Kanasa on the border of Oklahoma. There’s a hall of fame with memorabilia about the various races at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln, but the 415-yard race takes place on (what else?) Pancake Blvd.

(Photo of Liberal City Hall mural: Lisa Waterman Gray, VisualTraveler.blogspot.com. Race photo courtesy International Pancake Day board.  Both used with permission.)

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