MADRID — Some clutched pillows or stuffed animals, others fought back giggles as they sought to take a siesta in public — all in the name of plugging a quintessential Spanish custom endangered by the demands of modern life.
Amid the bustle of a shopping mall, with babies wailing and pop music piped in overhead, clutches of people tried to snooze Thursday in what was billed as Spain's first siesta competition.
The goal — to promote Spain's cherished post-lunch nap — is no joke, although the costumes of some who participated may be.
As the nine-day snooze Olympiad got under way, some competitors snuggled with giant stuffed animals or clutched pillows like babies. Others wore eye masks to block the light. A young stern-faced judge with a T-shirt bearing the letters "ZZZ" monitored the proceedings perched high on a lifeguard's chair.
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Contestants in groups of five were given 20 minutes to lie down on garish blue couches and timed by a doctor with a pulse-measuring device to determine how long they spent snoozing. They could win extra points for snoring, adopting goofy sleep positions or wearing outlandish nightwear in plain view of gawking shoppers.
Their sofas were lined up in parallel numbered lanes like those of a track and field meet, and eight rounds were being held per day.
The winner of the inaugural round was a portly and loquacious construction worker, 47-year-old Fermin Lominchar, who raised his arms in triumph as he mounted the podium. He was timed as having slept 18 minutes, much of it with his generous gut sticking out from an untucked plaid shirt.
"I just conked out. No problem whatsoever," he said, winning a $42.30 gift certificate.
No snoring was detected among the first five contestants. Organizers have a machine to measure the decibels emitted if anyone does.