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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac: World Coal Carrying Championships

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the World Coal Carrying Championships. Contestants in the old mining town of Gawthorpe, England race each other carrying sacks of coal.


ROSS: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I'm Pippin Ross.

[MUSIC: Walter Carlos, "William Tell Overture," A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Warner – 1972)]

ROSS: It's not every day that a bet between friends becomes an international contest. But that's exactly what happened in a pub in a small town in northeast England when two men challenged each other to a foot race. This being coal country, the catch is the runners had to haul a sack of coal across the finish line. The year was 1963 and the event became known as the World Coal Carrying Championship.

Every Easter Monday, the village of Gawthorpe, England hosts up to 60 men and women who vie for the title of King and Queen of the Coal Humpers. Their racecourse follows an uphill path from a pub on the edge of the village to the center of town, 1100 yards away. The men carry sacks weighed down with 110 pounds of coal, while the women shoulder 45-pound bags.

The town's local mining pits are all closed now. So the two and a half tons of coal needed for the race has to be imported from nearby pits still operating. The donated coal is returned at the end of the race.

Each year, a crowd of about 3,000 turns out to see if the Guinness world records will be broken. The time to beat for men is four minutes and six seconds, five minutes and five seconds for women. Winners get the equivalent of about $450 U.S. in cash and a trophy. At the end of the day, the winners, losers and well-wishers gather at the Bee Hive Inn to down a few pints and collect, or pay up, on their bets. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.




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