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Liberal race is no flash in the pan

The forecast for Tuesday in Liberal calls for snow and temperatures in the 30s.

Not the best weather for people running with pancakes.

This year marks the 64th annual running of the International Pancake Day Race, according to Jo Ann Combs, executive secretary of the International Pancake Day of Liberal. Fourteen women, ages 18 to 39, plan to compete in Liberal on Tuesday, hoping to beat competitors in Olney, England.

Liberal’s Tessy Barnett, 39, a longtime competitor, will run with her daughter, Tabith Barnett, 18. Tessy Barnett has run in the Pancake Day race 11 times but has never won.

“She loves to run the race,” Combs said.

After more than six decades, the race has become one of the quirkiest and best-known Kansas traditions. It pits women, skillets and pancakes from Liberal against women, skillets and pancakes from Olney. The race – a 415-yard, S-shaped course through downtown in Liberal – is always run at 11:55 a.m. on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday.

Liberal leads with 37 wins to Olney’s 26. 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 trans-Atlantic competition. It has been a rivalry since, and the event has turned into a four-day celebration in Liberal.

Liberal, a town of 20,000 residents, traditionally attracts between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors on Pancake Day.

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