Liberal wins fourth straight Pancake Day race

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) _ Physical-education teacher and track coach Melissa Hurla gave Liberal its fourth straight win in its annual International Pancake Race rivalry with Olney, England on Tuesday.

Hurla, 31, ran the 415-yard course in 60.65 seconds, beating Olney's time of 64 seconds by Juliet Minter.

Hurla pulled away early in the homestretch, taking the lead out of the second turn of the zigzag course, and cruised to the win 12 yards ahead of her training partner, 21-year-old kindergarten teacher Christy Lyddon.

``I thought, 'I need to go now,' or I wasn't going to go,'' said Hurla, who was running in her first race. ``That last stretch is the worst. It's a long one.''

City employee Patty Rutledge, a late entry, stayed with Hurla through much of the race but finished third. Miss Kansas, Kimberlee Grice, finished fourth as an honorary runner.

Tuesday's races were the 54th in a series of friendly competitions across the Atlantic.

Minter, 29, finished ahead of the pack in the 415-yard dash from The Bull pub to the ancient Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

``I doubt it will ever be an Olympic sport,'' Minter said.

Minter's time was three seconds better than her winning effort last year in Olney. But she was trounced a year ago by Lisa Spillman, who won the Liberal race in a record 58.1 seconds.

Spillman, now Lisa Spillman Mesa, won three straight races for Liberal. By rule, three-time winners must retire from further competition.

Hurla has already decided to defend her title next year.

``Oh my goodness. That's very bad news for Olney,'' said British Consul General Robert Culshaw, Olney's representative in Liberal for Tuesday's race.

Shrove Tuesday, known in Britain as Pancake Day, traditionally was the last day for merrymaking before the start of Lent. Pancakes were thought to be a good way to consume the fat the faithful were supposed to do without during the period of self-denial.

According to legend, the Olney race started in 1445 when a harassed housewife, rushing to be on time for church, arrived at the service still clutching her frying pan with a pancake in it.

After a lapse during World War II, the race was revived in 1948.

Liberal, in southwest Kansas, joined in the friendly rivalry two years later, after seeing a picture of the Olney race in Time magazine.

Liberal leads the series 28-24-1, with one race ruled a draw when a BBC truck blocked the finish line in Olney. The 25th anniversary race in 1994 was not counted toward the total.