LAGARDERE, France (CBS) -- As Usain Bolt was hanging up his running shoes after the 2012 Olympic Games on Sunday, the world's fastest snails were descending on the small French village of Lagardere for the next big event in the global sporting calendar.
"Welcome to Lagardere for the 49th world snail racing championship. We are not in London but the sport continues," said Master of Ceremonies Jeoff as he officially opened the contest.
Spectators described Lagardere as a lively village that has played host to the unusual event for more than 30 years with tourists and locals alike flocking to the village in the Gers every August.
The rules are simple: the snails are placed in small red circles in the middle of round tables with the first to slime its way to the edge crowned the winner.
But these competitors are not just fighting for a gold medal, they are fighting for their lives. The competition is followed by a feast served up to the spectators with snails cooked with ham, garlic, and tomatoes the day's special.
"We usually eat them and now before eating them we make them run. It's that simple," Master of Ceremonies Jeoff said.
Despite these threats, the snails took the contest at a leisurely pace -- it takes place over two hours with playoffs, semi-finals and a nail-biting grand finale.
According to organizers this year's event was slower than usual with the 30 degree heat making both the snails and there owners more sluggish than normal.
"It's rather warm. I don't know if it helps the snails at all but it certainly helps people enjoy the rest of the celebrations," said British tourist Julie.
Around 80 competitors take part who are invited either to bring their own snails or to hire them from the race committee.
Spectators who had worked up an appetite during the afternoon tucked into the unlucky contestants in the evening in the traditional post-race meal.
But Lagardere's mayor Patrick Dubos explained how one lucky individual was spared."We eat 375 pounds of snails tonight except the one that wins the race. It's given an amnesty just like in a bullfight," he said.
No anthems were sung or medals awarded to the owner of this year's championship snail, a seven year old called Sebastian, but he was given the prestigious snail racing trophy in recognition of his achievement.