A tradition since 1950, the International running of the Pancake Race has become a symbolic event of peace and unity between the Untied States and England.
Pancake Day is always on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Some people refer to it as “Fat Tuesday.” It is a centuries-old traditional holiday.
In Old England it was customary for the housewives to drop whatever they were doing and hurry to the church at the tolling of the bell to be “Shriven” for their sins.
In 1445, a housewife in Olney, England started baking her pancakes rather late. They were not quite finished when the church bell rang.
Not wishing to leave her pancakes to burn, she hurried to the “shriving” carrying her griddle and the pancakes with her. This led to the annual sporting event in England.
In Liberal, Kansas, USA, we heard of this 500 year event of pancake racing over a 415 yard course from the “town pump” to the church when a World War II American soldier from Liberal met a soldier from Olney.
The event was brought to Liberal, and in 1950 the international challenge was accepted by Reverend Ronald Collins, Vicar of Olney.
In the running of the International Pancake Day Race, times of the winners in both Olney and Liberal are compared by Trans-Atlantic telephone and an international winner is declared.
Over the years a three-day celebration has grown up around the event in Liberal. A concert, amateur talent show, pancake eating contest, parade, community pancake breakfast, Kids races, Men’s Pacer race, International Pancake Race, receptions and other special events provide for a full schedule during the celebration. It has been suggested that perhaps the Pancake Race with women of Olney has established a grassroots international understanding between people of the two countries. This might never have been possible to accomplish over the conference table at top-level diplomatic sessions…
As someone in England said, “Long may the race flourish as a relic of simple enjoyment from our colorful and robust past in this sophisticated and somewhat grim atomic age.”
It is customary for Liberal and Olney to send dignitaries to each country, so that an official representative is present at the race. At the end of the race, the dignitary congratulates the race winner with the Kiss of Peace.
The Pancake Race begins at the intersection of Sixth street and Kansas Avenue and finishes at the intersection of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue.