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August 06, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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On your marks, get set... shell!

Across the Channel from the heated contests of the London Olympics, competitors gathered in northern France Sunday for a far different kind of event: the eighth annual shrimp shelling competition in Leffrinckoucke.

Launched modestly in 2005 in this coastal town near Dunkerque, the competition grew from about 20 local contenders in its first year to 120 this year, including some from as far away as Russia, South Korea and Mexico.

Given 10 minutes to shell as many North Sea grey shrimp as possible, this year's contenders gathered on the beachfront in Leffrinckoucke, limbering up their fingers as they waited for the starting pistol to fire.

"A good sheller must feel committed, he must love the shrimp," said local mayor Bernard Weisbecker, who founded the light-hearted contest.

"You aim for the third segment, pull, hold down the head and out comes the whole shrimp," he said, adding that the technique requires "dexterity and intense practice".

"It's ideal to start around five years old, like with gymnastics," he joked.

First-time local competitor Therese Derache said she had trained "all week" for the contest and felt "in good shape".

But like in any competition, shrimp shelling has its perennial favourite, in this case five-time champion Nicole Vanzinghel, a fisherman's daughter who competed in a jersey with her name on the back and five shrimps on the front.

Taking a deep breath as the pistol fired, she launched into shelling, fingers flying for 10 intense minutes.

Came time for the weighing, Vanzinghel was triumphant again with 150 grams (5.3 ounces) of clean shrimps, short of her record of 186 grams (6.5 ounces) last year but enough to raise her arms in victory as the French national anthem rang out.




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