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The Sweet Smell of Victory
John Walters
September 16, 1996
It's not easy to win the annual greased codfish relay race in Milbridge, Maine
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September 16, 1996

The Sweet Smell Of Victory

It's not easy to win the annual greased codfish relay race in Milbridge, Maine

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He began to warm to the notion. "Hmm," he mused, "I did attend four years of dances at ND. I know what it is to embrace cold fish."

"Codfish, Smo," I said.

"Whatever."

Unfortunately, Smoron's schedule precluded his participation, and Anda, a native of Slovenia who spent last winter on the Women's Pro Ski Tour, becomes our last hope. She gamely agrees to cast her lot with us, but wonders aloud, "What is this codfish racing you Americans do?"

Quickly, then: four teammates, two at each end of a 30-yard stretch of meadow; one set of firefighter's turnout gear, which includes hip boots, a yellow slicker, a sou'wester and gloves; and one cod, greased in sardine—not cod-liver—oil and weighing about 20 pounds. The person running the first leg dons his or her gear, grabs the fish and sprints to runner number 2. There the first runner hands off the cod, removes the firefighter's garb, retrieves the cod as teammate dons gear and then returns it. Begin second leg. And so on. To pique fan interest, a squad of locals unleashes a full-throttle jet of water from a fire hose at the racers.

"To win, you must be able to dress and undress quickly," says Becky White, a family-services coordinator at the Milbridge Head Start program. Her all-female squad, the Crazy Cod Hoppers (CCH), established the course record of 1:55.63 (like their Olympic counterparts, cod relays are timed to the 100th of a second) in 1989.

Women's teams won the first nine relays, and the CCH had a six-year dynasty going until 1993, when they became embroiled in the most serious controversy the sport has known, or at least the gravest since Parsons ruled in 1988 that "contestants must be reasonably sober."

Bill Handrahan, proprietor of the Moonraker, who was the race official in charge that day, explains: "The Cod Hoppers, instead of wearing their gloves, rested them in the palms of their hands, to save time." Whereupon he produces an incriminating photo. It shows Handrahan's right hand raised in a halt gesture as White, fish in tow and bare knuckles in clear view, runs toward him.

"I made Becky return to the changeover area and the Cod Hoppers lost," says Handrahan. "Later, her dad confronted me. Stood eye-to-eye with me. 'You ought to be ashamed of yourself,' he said. He's still sore."

Pressed to explain, to exonerate herself of having conspired to do something so, well, fishy, Becky issues a terse rejoinder: "No comment."

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