Temperatures forecast to climb into the 40s, a limitless supply of pancakes and 13 runners might make for a winning combination today in the 61st running of the International Pancake Day Race.
The race has turned out to be one of the quirkiest and best known traditions Kansans have of celebrating Shrove Tuesday. The race pits the women, skillets and pancakes from Liberal against the women, skillets and pancakes of Olney, England.
"It's always 42 days before Easter and when Easter comes early, Pancake Day is really early. It's rush, rush, rush," said Jo Ann Combs, executive secretary for the International Pancake Day Race.
More often than not, the women of Liberal win, with media attention from around the world focusing on those first few minutes around noon when the race begins and ends.
The race is always run at 11:55 a.m. on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday.
Liberal leads with 34 wins to Olney's 25. One year, the score didn't count when a BBC television van blocked the course in England.
According to legend, the Olney Pancake Race began on Shrove Tuesday in 1445, when a housewife was using the last of her family's cooking fat before Lent, when it was forbidden. She heard the church bells ring for Shrove Tuesday services and ran to the church still wearing her apron, with skillet and pancake in hand.
When Time magazine did a feature on it in 1950, Liberal challenged the town to a friendly transatlantic competition. It has been a rivalry since, and the event has turned into a four-day celebration in Liberal.
For Liberal, on Pancake Day, the town of 20,000 residents traditionally attracts between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors. Last year, a communitywide breakfast before the race brought in 1,800 people.
The conditions for this year's race are almost prime, Combs said. No snow or ice is on the ground. The forecast calls for temperature in the 40s.
Even if ice or snow threatened Liberal's 415-yard, S-shaped course through downtown, city crews have in the past been brought in with propane blowers and heaters to deice and dry the course before the run.
Among Liberal's 13 runners is two-time winner Cheri Bevis, a physical education teacher, who won the race in 2003 and 2004. At 33, she will be the oldest runner in the Kansas portion of the race.
"This is the first time she's run the race since 2004," said Janice Northerns, publicity chairman for the race. "She claims she's out of shape but I am guessing she isn't. She's a track coach."