By LARRY PHILLIPS
• Leader & Times
OLNEY, ENGLAND — Devon Byrne showed the crowds in Olney, England why she was the defending world champion in the annual International Day Pancake Day Race. She burned her competition handily Shrove Tuesday as she covered the 415-yard course in the fastest time ever – 55.61 seconds, shattering her own world record by nearly a second. She had said last week, “Fingers crossed and with good weather, I may be able to lower the record again.”
That she did.
But the day didn’t start out as warm as she was after the finish.
As dawn lightened the skies in Olney, a thin icy frost covered almost everything. By 9 a.m., a bright sun lit the village and melting was dripping freely as the temperature rose.
As women starting entering the sign-up area in the tent in the Market Place, Byrne, 20, walked in with her grandparents about an hour early. She went to the table to sign in and get her running apron, head scarf and skillet.
As she limbered up and stretched, she admitted she had a few butterflies.
“A little bit,” she said. There’s more pressure this year. I’ve thought last year I shouldn’t have run so well – maybe should’ve just broken it a little bit last year.”
Off she went down the streets of Olney jogging to get her muscles warmed up.
Her grandmother said, “She just can’t sit still here, she always does that.”
It was 44 minutes to race time.
At five minutes until the race starts, the church bells at St. Peter and St. Paul ring across the English countryside. Everyone in the village knows what’s about to happen.
The electronic timer operator got his signal via walkie-talkie and the race announcer came over the loud speaker, “And they’re off.”
This year, an international timing company, Racing Timing System, had all the women wearing an electronic strip wrapped through their shoelaces, so when they crossed the timing line, it would record their times.
Unfortunately for Byrne, there was another timing strip about 5 meters before the finish strip, and she let up a bit after crossing the first strip.
After the racers all came in, Byrne was swarmed by media, and she admitted she might have even ran faster.
“I eased up at the wrong line,” she said.
Once all the computers were double checked, the announcer finally proclaimed her official time was 55.61, besting her 56 flat last year.
Though she now has to retire from the Olney race after winning three times – an international rule – she said this race was more important than her budding track career.
“This is the most important,” she said. “This is fabulous. It’s been such a long tradition, it make me really proud.”
At 6 this evening Olney time, she will find out if she beat the women from Liberal. Until then, she knows she is a three-time Olney champ, and possibly, a three-time international champ, as well.
When she won her first Olney title and international title in 2011 at the age of 18, she had told the media she didn’t realize the Olney Pancake Day Race was such a big deal. When reminded of that, she said, “I know, I didn’t. Now, today, I sign up and there’s hundreds of people.”
As she was feted at the Shriving Service, accepting her awards, Vicar Claire Wood mentioned she could not run the Olney race again, and asked Byrne her age.
“Twenty,” Byrne said, and the entire crowd oohed, awed, laughed and clapped in appreciation.
Devon Byrne, retiring from the Pancake Day races, with one of the most stunning win streaks in the history of the race between Olney and Liberal.