An extract from this book – Sports the Olympics Forgot.
Vlad Tepes, who signed himself Dracula, was born in the Transylvanian town of Sighisoara in the winter of 1431. The Old Town with its cobbled streets and beautiful buildings is a magnet for tourists during the months of summer. However, on December 21st the town is inundated with visitors for the annual Dracula race that has been run since 1898 – the year after Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was first published.
The race commemorates both the novel and what’s known about the life of Vlad Tepes. Contestants must dress in either a Dracula costume or an outfit that resembles the dress of a man of regal bearing from 15th-Century Romania. There are two elements to the race. The first is an individual time trial through the streets of Sighisoara and the second is a bike race from the town to Bran Castle. As long as a competitor has completed all the tasks correctly en route, the winner is the person with the lowest combined time from both races.
The individual time trial starts outside the modern day café where Vlad was born. The contestant must first run to the Clock Tower and climb the stairs to the top taking care not to hit their head on the low doorways. They must then run around the top of the clock tower in an anti-clockwise direction five times. After completing this task they must bite three apples in half before descending to the bottom of the tower. There they have to throw ten cloves of garlic into a bucket situated twenty yards away. Only when they have symbolically got rid of the garlic can they run to the steps leading to the accurately named The Church on the Hill. The contestant runs up the hundred steps, taking care not to trip over the gypsy boy sleeping on the top step, to the church. Outside the entrance the competitor has to knock down five crosses from a distance of 10 yards using some old tennis balls provided especially for the occasion.
After completing this task the contestant runs down the steps and then has to complete 50 sit-ups while lying in a coffin. Then the contestant runs back to the clock tower and ascends to the top where they must run 5 times in a clockwise direction around the top of the tower before biting three more apples in half.
Once this is done they descend to the bottom of the tower and run to the café where they must gulp down a pint of tomato juice. Their time is recorded and the next contestant can begin. If a competitor attempts to ingest some tablets to counter acid reflux or to prevent a stomach ache they will be immediately disqualified by the Ingestion Judge who fits false teeth into the person’s mouth which clamps their mouth shut.
The contestant then lies down for exactly 10 minutes in another coffin before beginning the bike race to Bran Castle. The false teeth are removed and the contestant leaves Sighisoara – the time begins when the rider cycles between a pair of whale bones. After 50 kilometres the cyclist must knock down 10 cardboard cutouts of Turkish soldiers using garlic cloves while still mounted on their bike. After a further 50 kilometres the cyclist must dismount and place fifteen turkey meatballs on a barbecue. Once the meat is cooked they must symbolically impale the turkey balls on a three-foot skewer and present the kebab to the Barbecue judge who will check that the meat is cooked. The judge will add a minute to the cyclist’s time for each meatball that isn’t properly cooked or that isn’t impaled correctly on the skewer. The cyclist then rides the last 40km to the castle at Bran and runs to the top of the castle. Here they catch a zip line which flies them over the finish line.
Perhaps surprisingly a Turk, Ali Erdogan, has won the race 5 times, the most of any competitor including an unprecedented hat-trick between 1963 and 1965. His winning run was ended when he tripped over the gypsy boy on the Sighisoara staircase and sprained his ankle. Ali can see the irony of a Turk taking part in the race but believes it helps to break down barriers between nations: “It is possible that a relation of mine was turned into a kebab by Vlad in the 1460s and received a skewer up the backside but I forgive Vlad, he was defending his country after all, so I don’t take it personally. I am a vegetarian so cooking the meat is the most difficult part for me but I seem to manage OK.”