The annual Corpus Christi tortoise race became mired in controversy on Sunday after contestants were accused of cheating.
The winner, by a stonking margin, was Oldham, representing Corpus Christi. On his home ground, he made easy work of the damp terrain, winning the three metre course by a margin of more than a minute.
But the race for second and third place soon turned into farce. With Corpus’ other contestant Fox closely trailing Oldham, the race looked to be a stitch-up for the home team.
Then, inches from the line, Fox developed an aversion to the lettuce marking the finish. He turned around and, to the shock of the onlooking crowd, headed back to the start.
Panic-stricken, Fox’s trainer picked up the tortoise by his shell and turned him towards the finish. Confusion then reigned. Fox, completely disoriented, wandered in random directions across the court. Several of the tortoises appeared to be put off their game, and lost sight of the finish.
Anoosh Chakelian, Christ Church’s tortoise trainer, said the confusion disoriented Christ Church representative Sampras.
“Our tortoise was definitely very intimidated by the second Corpus tortoise. Fox started chasing after Sampras, who didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
Ultimately, Regent’s Park’s Emmanuelle came through to claim second place, meandering gently to the line.
In a closely fought battle for third place, the tiny Percy of University College showed that size didn’t matter. In a tussle with Sampras and Fox by this point, he slipped through a gap to reach the line.
Despite their legendary longevity, tortoises do not live forever, and both Balliol and Magdalen have recently suffered losses. But, unwilling to relinquish their place in this prestigious competition, the colleges sent human representatives, cunningly disguised as tortoises. The man-tortoises were required to eat a whole lettuce, then avoid squashing the competitors as they crawled over the course.
A post race analysis revealed that both had in fact strewn a large proportion of their lettuce leaves on the ground.
Next year’s competitors will have a tough time reaching the imperious standards set by Oldham.
Corpus’ President, Professor Richard Carwardine, said Oldham had been training hard over the preceding few days in the Fellow’s garden.
“He did some starts, and has been practising on various terrains, which has paid off today,” he said.
The victory will be all the sweeter for Corpus after their race last year was interrupted by one competitor getting a little friendly with another, allowing Magdalen’s now sadly departed Oscar to run away with victory.