April 19, 2016

DENSON | Snail Racing Attracts Broad Attention

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With only 11 inches to go he’s out of breath. The critter can sense his competitors behind him, a mere centimeter behind. Like gladiators in the coliseum, screaming spectators surround the slimy specimens. All of a sudden he gets hungry, stops for a few seconds, and desperately searches for food. His owner screams in agony as his prized possession seems to lose all ambition. Some — overwhelmed by the competition — won’t make it to the finish line, and those who do will be boiled in a medley of onions, ham and broth.

They race for glory, immortality and high-protein lettuce. This is the world of snail racing. The fastest of the slowest compete in a winner-takes all slow sprint.

Snails must be land snails — giant snails are barred from racing. The course is a circular cloth track with two circles. The snails start at the inner circle, and the winner is crowned after the first snail crosses the outer circle, which is 13 inches away. The current record is two minutes and 20 seconds.

There are various championships held throughout the world but the two biggest are generally considered to be the championship held in Congham, England and the “World Snail Racing Championship” in Lagardere, France.

Neil Riseborough, the world’s “Snail Master,” takes his position extremely seriously. He has about 2,000 snails currently living on his farm, and he has a meticulous process for finding the best racers. “We’re a clean sport, unlike sprinting worldwide,” Riseborough told National Geographic magazine. “There are people who will try and bend the rules — but we scrutinize.”

In 2012 over 200 snail owners representing nine countries showed up.

As I watched my first race on YouTube to see which of the over 200 snails would be crowned world champion, I saw the competition as a mix of complete absurdity coupled with actual enthusiasm. And, of course, the most amusing part is the fact that the snails themselves have no idea what’s going on. So many of them tend to wander around the track and never making it to the finish line. If only they knew the praise and glory they would receive had they finished first.

Inch-for inch this is the most exciting sporting event in the world. I will take this claim to the grave.

Children trainers generally win the race, but last year 31-year-old trainer Dale Throne won the race with his snail “George.”

“I am thrilled but slightly embarrassed. This is usually won by a child,” Thorne told National Geographic. “I think George won because he was fed on good local lettuce.”

This year’s Congham snail race will take place in July. Be sure to read about everyone’s favorite shelled creature as they squirm their way to victory. Which snail will slug out a win this summer? Who knows!?!?

All this excitement is making me snailish.