A look at the 2011 World Snail Racing Championships

The scene is Congham in Norfolk, England.

Surrounded by mollusks, owners place their racers onto the course. Snailmaster Neil keeps an eye on all of the competitors, waiting for the opportune moment to start the race.

Ready, steady, SLOW!

When the time is right, Neil yells: "Ready, steady, slow!" And with that proclamation, the 2011 World Snail Racing Championships begin.

July 16, 2011, marked the next chapter in this quirky event that started in the 1960s. Snail racing is a sport most popular in the United Kingdom where two or more land snails race each other from an inner circle to an outer circle. With the radius between the two circles being 13 inches away, competitors cheer on their snails toward the perimeter. Races are held on top of a table with a damp cloth spread out.

To many present for these snail-racing contests, these Helix Aspersa, otherwise known as the common garden snail, are quite revered as champion racers. Excelling in damp, low-lying conditions, towns like Congham are ideal snail-racing grounds. With ideal conditions this Saturday, everyone was ready for a great day of racing.

At this year's World Snail Racing Championships, many competitors came to Congham with only one goal in mind: to become the world champion of the snail-racing world. With a small numbered sticker marked on the back of their snail, challengers from around the world vie for the title.

Trainers come from all over to compete in this officially-recognized championship event. While competitors are restricted from using anything other than a domestic land snail, people come from countries like Norway, Belgium, Malawi, and the United States to compete in this yearly community phenomenon.

Ranging from competitors young and old, a good owner-snail relationship is necessary for success. This year proved to be a year for the youth, as 6-year-old Anton Lucas of Ashwicken, Norfolk, England, emerged victor from 120 competing owners and snails. With his snail Zoomer by his side, the snail won the finals in a time of 3 minutes, 23 seconds.

Despite not surpassing the world record of 2:20 by a snail named Archie in 1995, Lucas and Zoomer were proud of their performance. While Zoomer didn't outdo Archie, it did blow away the championship-winning time set by Sidney, the 2010 champion, who posted a "slow" 3:41. Besides the disappointment of not breaking the record, at the end of the day, Zoomer and owner Lucas came away with a trophy only appropriate for an event like this—a silver tankard filled with lettuce.




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Updated Monday, Jul 18, 2011