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International Pancake Day 2019
The annual event between Liberal, Kansas and Olney, England celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. We spoke with the event's Merchandise Director in the States, Gary Classen, about the history of this unique, Transatlantic event!
Thank you for talking to us about International Pancake Day Gary! Liberal, Kansas, is home to a unique take on Pancake Day which has a Transatlantic connection with the town of Olney in Buckinghamshire, England. Can you tell us about how that connection first started?
The connection between the two towns started back in 1950 when a gentleman by the name of RJ Leete read in a magazine about the women of Olney competing in a race involving pancakes. RJ contacted the Rev. Cannon Collins in Olney about the race and challenged them to a friendly competition. Collins agreed, a set of rules was established, and the races began.
What does the race between the two towns entail?
The official race consists of women running an "S" shaped course which is 415 yards long. The women must be clad in the traditional "house-wife attire", which is a skirt, apron and head scarf. Runners must flip their pancake at the beginning of the race and also at the end of the course to prove that they still have the pancake in hand. The runner with the fastest time wins the International competition.
Has the event changed over the years, given how long it's been run?
The race itself has not changed much since the beginning of time; however, the events surrounding the race have changed quite a bit. In Liberal, we have managed to stretch a 60 second race into a 4 day celebration! We have included the children of the community in a number of different competitions. On the Friday before Shrove Tuesday, we go into the elementary schools (grades Kindergarten through 5th grade) and host flipping competitions where the children will flip pancakes to see who has the most flips in 1 minute. On Saturday we will host flipping and eating competitions for the community where they will test their skills at flipping pancakes or seeing who can eat 5 pancakes the fastest. Over the years we have had talent shows, beauty pageants and concerts as well.
Is the competition friendly, or is there a genuine sense of rivarly between Liberal and Olney?
The competition is friendly, but we have found that our British counterparts have a real desire to be the best and fastest! I am pretty sure that some of them train all year long for this event. As with any given sporting event, everyone wants to win, and that desire exists in Liberal as well.
Who currently has the record for the fastest race time / most race wins over the years?
Liberal holds the lead in race wins at 38 with Olney winning 29 times. There were 2 years where a winner was not announced due to a broadcasting truck blocking the way in Olney one year and an timing malfunction in Olney. Olney holds the record for the fastest time in the race at a blazing 55.02 seconds.
Are there any particularly notable incidents from history during the Races?
The broadcasting truck is one event that sticks out in our minds as being memorable. The excitement of not only the people of our communities is evident, but also the media in the fact that they were just in the way trying to get that perfect shot. We fondly remember a time not too long ago when Pancake Day was on March 7th. Following the event we had a great storm come up and actually had a tornado hit the town as we were picking up from the event. Fortunately no one was injured, but it did create some excitement. The weather always plays a factor in the day, and we have had times where the city crews will bring out flame throwers to melt the ice from the race course to keep the ladies safe.
I've read that the International results are finalized during a cross Atlantic phone call between Olney and Liberal to compare times. Is this still how the results are declared, and if so, who pays the International phone bill!?
In the beginning we did use the telephone to compare notes on who won the race. We had a local bank who would instigate the phone call and pay for that. Times have evolved since the beginning and we no longer do a phone call, but we do contact each other via Skype. It is so much better to be able to see each other and have a much clearer conversation.
Has the event linked Olney and Liberal in other ways too?
The two communities have developed very strong ties between the two of them. The friendships that have been created are amazing. The race is important to both sides, but I think that more importantly we have some strong friendships. Each year we look forward to talking with each other via the Skype. We have exchanged visitors both during Pancake Day and throughout the rest of the year.
What do you think the event says about the Special Relationship between the US and the UK?
The US and UK have been friends for many years; I think that this bond which is created between Liberal and Olney further cements that bond, but it also makes it much more personal to each of us living in the two towns. It is one thing to know that your countries are friends, but having this event makes it real.
What has being involved in the event meant for you?
From a young age, I was always excited to be a part of the event by going to watch the race and see it on the evening news. My children have grown up around Pancake Day their entire lives. I have served on the Pancake Board personally since 1993. All three of our children have competed in the children's races, our daughter holds 5 trophies for being the top flipper in her age division and our middle son is currently serving as the official photographer of the Liberal portion of the race. The event takes a lot of planning throughout the entire year, and it takes some long hours during the days leading up to the event, but in the end it is all worth it to see the joy on the faces of the people who come to participate and those who watch.
How does it feel to be marking 70 years of International Pancake Day in 2019, and how can people get involved on both sides of the pond?
70 years is a long time to have an event that joins two communities. It's exciting to know that a friendly proposition that long ago still continues. Pancake Day isn't just for the people running in the race, it is for the entire community. If people don't want to run, they can be involved by attending the events and cheering on the ladies who do run. We welcome new ideas to help make the celebration better, so I would encourage people to offer their opinions. It is an event that is fun for the whole family.