MONTPELIER, Vt. (March 20) - They've worn their sneakers while mowing the lawn. They've left them outside in the rain, and they've dragged them through the mud.
And on Tuesday, contestants from as far away as Alaska attempted to overwhelm judges with their foul-smelling sneakers in the annual rotten sneaker contest.
Leading the panel of sniffers was George Aldrich, who has conducted more than 700 smell tests for NASA space shuttle missions. Contestants also were evaluated by judges in categories ranging from "tongues and toes" to "overall condition and soles."
A previous winner wore the same pair of socks for three months in an attempt to take top honors. One child even sang a rap song about the shoes his father makes him keep on the fire escape.
But in the end it was 5-year-old Reno James, who won the respect of the panel's sniffers and the top prize, a $500 savings bond.
Reno James's secret to victory? "The cow pies," said Reno James, who helps out on his baby-sitter's dairy farm when he is not moving dirt for his father's contruction company. "They're just hard to avoid. They're everywhere."
Local winner Sam Kessler, 10, devoted months to preparing for the contest. "He's worked really hard on these shoes," said his mother, Tess. "He wears them constantly."
The rotten sneaker contest began more than 25 years ago. Odor-Eaters later decided to sponsor the event, crowning Montpelier "the rotten sneaker capital of the world."
"We've worked hard to earn that distinction," said Mayor Chuck Karparis, a contest judge who himself once competed.
"It's supposed to be 'raw talent,'" Aldrich explained. "...and this year Reno James rose to the top of that talent pool!"