Games Without Frontiers

The countries which lead in egg-and-spoon, three-legged and pantomime horse races

Egg-and-Spoon Race (Barratt's Photo Press)

Almost all of the top Jamaican sprinters started their careers at Champs, the Jamaican Schools Championships. To a casual observer, it looks a lot like a school sports day and this is no coincidence. It comes from the same egg-and-spoon and sack racing heritage.

There are no eggs at Champs but they form part of the staple diet at Jamaican primary schools. World Indoor Champion, Juliet Campbell, developed a love for track and field while precariously carrying an egg across the finish line. In Jamaica, the menu is often varied, and so a lime is substituted instead, as the foodstuff to be kept finely balanced.

Like so many sports, egg-and-spoon races were spread across the world by the British Empire. From England (above), they found their way to Australia, the West Indies and South Asia. And like the egg, the fragile tradition has remained intact because of subtle adaptations to circumstances. In India, a lemon is carried on a spoon held in the mouth.

Four Legs Good, Three Legs Better

Great Britain leads the world in many unorthodox events, such as running a marathon dressed a pantomime horse. And, yes it has held onto the world record, which was set in 2012, when brothers Bill and Tom Casserley cantered along the streets of London.

In the three-legged race, other countries are a step ahead. The women’s 50m record is held by East Germany, which turned even the most fun contest into a brutal expression of state power. At least it completed the race in the usual way, using two sprinters with legs tied together, rather than one with odd side effects from human growth hormone.

The men’s record for the 100 yeards is held by a Olympic champion, Harry Hillman of the United States, with Lawson Robertson. Their time of 11 seconds was set in 1909.

Sally Pearson Daegu 2011-2

A more recent Olympic gold medallist, Sally Pearson (above), sought to get her name into the record books in 2013. The Australian hurdler tried to break the 100m record for the egg-and-spoon race. She took the attempt almost too seriously, insisting that a 50m track be extended so that she would not lose any precious seconds turning round.

The previous best, held by serial record breaker Asrita Furman, was 19.39 seconds but Pearson finished in 16.59 seconds. She didn’t just smash the record – she scrambled it.

Green and Golden Eggs

Great Britain dominates the longer egg-and-spoon races but Australia is mounting a challenge there too. Dale Lyons holds the marathon record but Phil Rorke, the Aussie who holds the mile record, tried to take it from his British rival. He made two attempts in 2014 but dropped the egg twice, and so he failed to claim the egg-and-spoon Ashes.

This is a surprise. Great Britain invented many sports but has been overtaken in most, by Jamaica in sprinting, India in cricket, and Australia in another egg-shaped pursuit.

On the other hand, Great Britain is the land of cheese rolling, bog snorkelling and welly wanging. It remains tough to beat in egg-and-spoon races and pantomime horse racing too. Nobody else, not even those wacky Australians, can quite match it for eccentricity.

Next week: Why tiny Latvia is able to slide so successfully in luge and skeleton events

 

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