An egg-and-spoon race is a sporting event in which participants must balance an egg or similarly shaped item upon a spoon and race with it to the finishing line. At many primary schools an egg-and-spoon race is staged as part of the annual Sports Day, alongside other events such as the sack race and the three-legged race.
The earliest recorded usage in the Oxford English Dictionary is in an article of 8 September 1894 featured in The Daily News: "the gentlemen had a turn in the egg-and-spoon race, in which the competitors had to punt with one hand and balance an egg on a spoon with the other". An earlier origin in colonial USA has been claimed. Egg-and-spoon races formed part of village celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, alongside the tug of war and blindfold wheelbarrow races. A set of turned and stained wooden eggs and spoons designed for racing and dating to the 1920s forms part of the Good Time Gallery of the Museum of Childhood in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It reached Canada by at least 1922, the first time it was mentioned in The Globe. By the 1930s, the phenomenon of the parents' egg-and-spoon race was sufficiently well-established to be satirized in Punch. Races were held among the staff of Trinity College, Cambridge until the 1950s. Egg-and-spoon races were held as part of the celebrations for both the 1977 Silver Jubilee and 2012 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. In 2012, the British Council promoted the egg-and-spoon race as a suitable event for "English days", alongside the celebration of Charles Dickens and of the Victorian era.
Competitors race either individually or in teams in the manner of a relay race. If the egg falls from the spoon then competitors may be required to stop, retrieve, and reposition their egg; or to start again; or may even be disqualified. Due to the lesser penalty imposed for dropping the egg, and consequent encouragement of greater risk-taking, the first penalty scenario may result in a race that is faster overall. Common methods of cheating include sticking the egg to the spoon, or holding onto the egg with one finger. For an extra challenge, contestants might carry the spoon with both hands, in their mouths, or have their hands tied behind their backs. Squabbles are to be avoided in the eventuality of fumbling one's egg.
In some schools the attendance of parents is prohibited or alternative non-competitive events staged, with the intention of sparing children the embarrassment and stigma of defeat. In others, the use of raw eggs is banned on the grounds of health and safety and fears of allergy or of competitors contracting salmonella through accidental ingestion of the contents of a broken egg. Hard-boiled, wooden, ceramic or synthetic eggs may be used in their stead, or alternative substitutes such as potatoes, small balls, or jelly. Punitive insurance premiums have also resulted in the cancellation of some events. The phrase "egg and spoon" features in The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; its use, along with the idiom good egg with which it is sometimes confused, is frowned upon by the Metropolitan Police Service on the grounds of it being derogatory and rhyming slang for "coon".
A number of world records in egg-and-spoon racing are held by New-Yorker and serial record-holder Ashrita Furman; these include, as published by Guinness World Records, fastest 100 m egg-and-spoon race (19.39 seconds); fastest 100 m egg-and-spoon race while holding the spoon in the mouth (25.13 seconds); fastest mile egg-and-spoon race (7 minutes, 8 seconds); fastest mile egg-and-spoon race holding the spoon with both hands (8 minutes, 5 seconds); and fastest mile egg-and-spoon race holding the spoon in the mouth (9 minutes, 29 seconds). In 1990 a runner completed the London Marathon in three hours forty-seven minutes while carrying a dessert spoon with an uncooked egg balanced upon it.
British Olympic heptathlete and gold-medal winner Denise Lewis cites victory aged six in a thirty-metre egg-and-spoon race as the origin of her sporting ambitions; she advises all young athletes "concentrate, have fun with it and do your best".
- Young, Toby (21 July 2007). "Toby Young on failure". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Oxford English Dictionary V: Dvandva-Follis. Oxford University Press. 1989. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-19-861186-8.
- Horowitz, Gayle (2008). International Games: Building Skills Through Multicultural Play. Human Kinetics. pp. 36 f. ISBN 978-0-736-07394-3.
- "Why Wiltshire's towns, villages and schools are looking back to look forward to the Queen's Jubilee". Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Egg and spoon race set". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Plains Road School Picnic". The Globe and Mail (Toronto ON). 26 June 1922. p. 15.
- "Trinity College Staff Sports and Social Club". Trinity College, Cambridge. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Mills, James (3 June 2012). "Sweet party: Whole of Britain turns out to kick off jubilee in style". The Sun. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "English days with the British Council". British Council. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Clerkin, Dick (2 July 2012). "Let us drop an egg or two...". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "The KPMG All-Sports Day". University of Manchester. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Egg and spoon race smashes record". BBC. 24 October 2003. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- White, Jim (21 March 2005). "At last, I can cheer on my children to win the egg and spoon race". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Fastest mile egg and spoon race - both hands". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Fastest 100 m carrying an egg on a spoon in the mouth". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Patchwork Planet". The Economist. 30 June 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "The egg and spoon award for political correctness". The Daily Telegraph. 26 October 2006. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Littlejohn, Richard (17 July 2008). "Who says charity begins at home? Second from last in the sack race". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Sack race is too dangerous". London Evening Standard. 7 February 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Steele, John (15 May 2002). "Nitty gritty is not PC, minister". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Hopkins, Nick (15 May 2002). "Why nitty gritty has been ruled a no-no in the police lexicon". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Partridge, Eric, ed. (2008). The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 232. ISBN 978-0415-21259-5.
- "Fastest 100 m egg-and-spoon race". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Fastest mile egg and spoon race". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Fastest mile carrying an egg on a spoon in the mouth". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Fastest marathon running with an egg and spoon". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Davies, Gareth A (20 June 2012). "Denise Lewis's advice for young athletes". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2012.