Author Jeremy Clay tells the tale of the race between birds and insects,
It was a surprise victory, to say the least. All the smart money had been on the eventual losers. Only a reckless few backed the team that ultimately triumphed.
So there was consternation at the finishing line, that day in 1888. An eager crowd had craned their necks to see the first of the competitors head for home, but instead of the pigeon everyone expected to be out in front, the field was led by a bee.
The race with a strong claim to the title of the most outlandish match in the history of sport reportedly happened in the village of Hamme, in Westphalia, Germany.
A pigeon-fancier and a beekeeper had somehow talked themselves into staging a cross-species showdown to answer the question precisely no-one else was troubled by – which creature was the fastest.
The question they actually seem to have settled was which creature was the least likely to be distracted along the way. The first bee came in 25 seconds before the first bird and three other bees before the second. At that point, the race officials appear to have grown weary of their record-keeping, and the rest of the results went unlogged.
A resounding triumph for insect-kind, then. And perhaps the bees would have done better still, if they hadn’t been rolled in flour before the start of the three-and-a-half mile race.
“It was very difficult to identify them,” explained the London Daily News, “and though rolling them in flour before they started on their course made them easily recognizable on their arrival, it must have somewhat retarded their flight.”