Carrying a sack of coal on their backs for three-quarters of a mile more than 60 mainly Yorkshire men staggered around the course in the World Coal Carrying Championships in rain-spattered Gawthorpe, Wakefield, yesterday.
The race which has attracted entries in previous years from as far away as America has its origins in a throwaway remark by a Lewis Hartley who mocked his drinking buddy Reggie Sedgewick with the words “Ba gum lad tha’ looks b******d” in Gawthorpe’s Beehive Inn back in 1963.
What began as a £10 bet between two friends has become a popular event recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the proving ground for the world’s greatest coal carrier – or “Coil Humper”, to use the local vernacular. So many men wanted to take part this year that for health and safety reasons the 66 men divided into two races. Starting at the Royal Oak public house on Owl Lane, the undulating “race track” finishes at The Maypole on the village green.
The men’s event requires competitors to carry 50kg of coal over a distance of 1108.25 yards, while women carry 20kg the same distance.
Organiser Samantha Wood, a former Huddersfield University student, said 20 women had entered this year and a children’s race that involved carrying a sack of sand for 100 yards had attracted 160 entries.
She said: “This year – the 49th – will probably be my last. I have done it for four years now. Originally I did it as part of my Events Management course at university. Due to the weather we have not had so many spectators this year but we still had around 1,000.”
Matthew Wainwright won the men’s race in 4 min 34 sec and took away a cheque for £750 and Anita Faherty received £500 for winning the women’s race.