VRANA, Croatia (Reuters) - A last-minute check of their powerful, shiny machines and then it’s time to fire up the engines and race...but don’t expect to see hurtling vehicles at the World Ploughing Championships.
The snail’s pace at which the tractors move across the field may seem odd to an outsider, but the focus is on neatness rather than speed, and the 60-odd participants do not take it lightly.
A team of judges evaluates the depth of each trench, its straightness and the overall look.
“The criteria are clear, we have seasoned judges and there is no cheating here, there is a lot of competitive spirit,” said Zeljko Kucjanic, one of the judges carefully measuring the depth of each tranche.
Most ploughmen bring along their families. Some have colorful supporters who travel with them around the world, like the dozen Swedes dressed in national soccer jerseys and Viking hats in Vrana, near the Adriatic coast, to cheer on their compatriot.
England, New Zealand, Austria and Scotland are the superpowers of tractor racing, but the minnows are also here.
“For me, I don’t regard this as for money, to me it is to learn new techniques,” said Mark Kuru Toroitich from Kenya.
The championship began in 1953 and has been held every year in a different country since then.
“It started as a way to promote world peace,” said Don Klehm from Illinois, Michigan. “I cannot believe the camaraderie that’s in this. It is one great big group of friends.”
As if to underscore this, the championship brought together for the first time competitors from Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, whose 2008 independence Serbia does not recognize. Belgrade strongly opposes Kosovo representatives competing internationally.
“We don’t mind (having Kosovo here). This is a global contest and everyone has a right to take part...We represent Serbia, not Kosovo,” said Zoran Paskulj of Serbia.
Judge Kucjanic said that, unlike in professional sports, this contest was dope-free, but Serbia’s coach Dragan Cirovic said the ploughmen did have their fortifying ritual, at least when working for real.
“Nobody wants to say this publicly, but every time his work begins, every ploughman takes a shot of brandy or wine, crosses himself and gets to work.”
Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic, editing by Paul Casciato