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Sunday, 8 October, 2000, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
England's conkering champions
Women dressed as nuns swing their conkers
Swing out sisters: 90 women and 250 men took part
England swung into sporting action on Sunday, retaining the world conker championships crown at the expense of a German team.

After England's disappointing 1-0 soccer defeat by Germany at Wembley on Saturday, it was left to Mark Tracy, 39, of Ringstead, Northamptonshire, to ensure the country's tight hold on the horse chestnut-based game.

The much-fancied German team, from Nauort in Bavaria, included former world champion Josef Koberle, but they could only watch from the sidelines after exiting in the early rounds.

In a highly-charged all-English showdown, Mr Tracy carried off the title after his 63-year-old opponent, Gordon Garner, of Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, swung and missed twice then saw his prize nut smash into pieces.

'Stunned'

Father-of-two Mr Tracy's Barton Bashers also won the team prize, extending England's unbeaten foursomes record to 36 years.

Mark Tracy
Conkering hero: Mark Tracy
After the contest, which was held on the village green at Ashton, near Oundle, Northamptonshire, self-employed Mr Tracy said: "I'm a bit stunned. I didn't expect to win.

"I played awful in the first two legs. I couldn't hit anything but I then got my eye in. In the final, I never hit the other guy's conker. He missed two of his three hits then it smashed into bits."

The newly-crowned local hero, whose nephew Jody, the defending champion, crashed out in the first round, added: "At least on this occasion we repelled the German threat after the World Cup qualifier and the Grand Prix."

Organisers said about 5,000 people turned out to watch the 36th championships in the Northamptonshire village and 90 women and 253 men took part.

Sporting institution

The women's event was won by 42-year-old, British-based Austrian Selma Becker.

The audiologist defeated 32-year-old customer relations manager Catherine Teal, from Stamford, Lincolnshire, in the final.

Nutty professors
Pondering whether vinegar or baking produces the tougher nut?
Ms Teal made up for the disappointment, however, by being a member of the victorious women's team.

The championships, which began in 1965 when a group of regulars at The Chequered Ship pub in Ashton abandoned a fishing trip, have grown into a sporting institution, drawing substantial crowds to the picturesque village green.

This year, competitors came from Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Austria, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

All proceeds from the event were being donated to the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

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