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Paris crowns champion waiters in one-of-a-kind 'cafe race'

Each waiter raced with a tray bearing a croissant, a coffee and water (Dimitar DILKOFF)
Each waiter raced with a tray bearing a croissant, a coffee and water (Dimitar DILKOFF)

Visitors to central Paris were treated on Sunday to the sight of hundreds of aproned waiters surging through the mediaeval streets, in a one-of-a-kind race designed to show off the profession months ahead of the Olympic Games.

Men's winner Samy Lamrous and top waitress Pauline Van Wymeersch walked the two-kilometre (1.2-mile) route in 13 minutes 30 seconds and 14 minutes 12 seconds respectively -- each carrying a tray with a croissant, espresso and glass of water.

"We do this for 12 hours every day, including weekends and holidays," said Van Wymeersch, who works at cafe Le Petit Pont a few hundred metres (yards) from city hall.

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Her race-winning secret was "20 years on the job and good legs", she told AFP.

As well as their medals, both winners would receive a night's stay in a swanky hotel, said city water authority Eau de Paris, which sponsored the event.

"Congratulations to everyone who took part," the body wrote on X (formerly Twitter), alongside a video of Lamrous panting for breath as he broke through the tape.

A jury was waiting at the finish line to judge both contestants' times and how much of their beverages might have slopped over an unbalanced rim.

- 'Question of concentration' -

Hundreds of spectators lined the route or applauded from roadside cafe tables as the servers, jaws clenched, piloted their trays through the streets, seeking to keep the precious cargo intact.

Joshing as they went, some pulled off acrobatic movements with their trays as they slipped through a gap to overtake.

"My thighs are a bit strained but it's mostly a question of concentration," said Lamrous.

"You have to keep it balanced with all these people cheering you on. In the end, I managed to come back from behind, Paris style," he added of his first-place victory.

First staged in 1914, the "course des garcons de cafe" (cafe waiters' race) was held on Sunday for the first time since 2011 -- four months before the city hosts the Olympics in July and August.

With the dismissive "garcon" ("boy") rarely used to refer to waiters nowadays, the challenge was re-baptised this year as the "course des cafes" or "cafes race".

Unlike their Lycra-clad Olympic counterparts, the waiters wore white shirts, dark trousers and aprons provided by the organisers.

The 200 contestants started and finished the race at city hall by the river Seine, sent on their way by mayor Anne Hidalgo.

"I came here yesterday to scout things out," said Thierry Petit, who marked 40 years as a Paris waiter the day of the race.

"Celebrating today, with all these people, in an Olympic year, really puts the wind in my sails," he added.

"This was a way to highlight our city's culture," said Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor in charge of sports and the Olympics, who himself had a go at the race.

"A cafe or restaurant waiter is a really powerful icon of French culture," he added -- one many visitors will be looking forward to experiencing this summer.

All the medallist waiters will be invited to the Olympics opening ceremony on July 26.

pim-tgb/gil