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England just hosted the 2023 Snail Racing World Championship

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

On your marks. Get set. Go. If you've ever attended a race event, you've probably heard these commands. Everyone gets in position, and then they dazzle onlookers with their speed. But this weekend in Norfolk, England, a different kind of race. The opening words - ready, steady, slow.

NICHOLAS DICKINSON: I'm Nicholas Dickinson, and I'm one of two snail masters responsible for the running of the Snail Racing World Championships.

RASCOE: 2023's Snail Racing World Championships - yes, you heard that exactly right. What better way to celebrate our notoriously slow and slimy friends than having them race? And in England, they've been doing it for a while.

DICKINSON: The first snail racing records that we've got date from 1970. And we know that the event has been held annually ever since at Congham in Norfolk.

RASCOE: The championship pits dozens of snails against each other, putting their gliding skills to the test. The slimy contestants are placed on a round table. Two circles are marked in a white tablecloth, one at the center, the starting point.

DICKINSON: And then the second circle, which is the finish line, is exactly 13 inches away from the inner circle, the start line.

RASCOE: Thirteen inches from start to finish. One small step for man, one giant ooze for snailkind. Dickinson says the event is serious business for those who take part in it. Trainers prepare months in advance, selecting the speediest gastropod they can find in their backyards, training them to achieve greatness on the big day.

DICKINSON: And they need to look after them and entice them out of their shells with lettuce and other such goodies and decide who they're going to put their hopes on to win the world championships.

RASCOE: The championship is BYOS. That's bring your own snail. But those who wish to participate and did not get a chance to select and train their own speed demon - or what's the opposite of a speed demon? Speed angel? (laughter) - they can still get in on the action. The snail masters have them covered.

DICKINSON: Anyone's allowed to participate. And they can either bring their own snail, or they can rent one of ours.

RASCOE: Once the snails are set and ready to glide, it's off to the races. Trainers and fans cheer on their favorite snails, just like they would in a stadium.

DICKINSON: That's where it gets exciting. Their trainers all shout and holler for their respective snails to try and encourage them across the finish line.

RASCOE: And they could be cheering for a while. Dickinson says it can take up to six minutes for some snails to complete the race. But there is one time every trainer wants to beat - two minutes. That's the record set in 1995 by Archie, the fastest snail the world has ever seen.

DICKINSON: He's generally regarded as the greatest snail of all time, Archie the GOAT. And he's talked about every year with great fondness, and it's his record that's now stood for more than 25 years that everyone tries to emulate or get even close to.

RASCOE: But even if no one beats Archie, there are still worthy prizes for the winners - a pewter mug for the trainer and a whole bunch of lettuce for the champion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Lennon Sherburne