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Paris, France – One of Paris’s most fashionable districts was flooded with white-shirted waiters balancing trays of coffee and croissants as the iconic Course des Cafes (“coffee race”) returned to the French capital on Sunday.

The competition, which began in Paris 110 years ago, sees waiters race each other while holding trays of typical French fare.

The event had not been held since 2011 because of budget issues. But with the Olympics coming to town this year, the city of Paris decided to revive the tradition to contribute to the spirit of athletic competition.

“Slaloming between tables and serving orders in record time without spilling one’s plate – that’s a sport,” the city said in a statement.

Thousands of people gathered to watch around 200 waiters take part in the race, which traverses a 2km (1.2-mile) route around Le Marais in central Paris. Without running, each waiter had to reach the finish line while balancing a tray with a glass of water, a cup of coffee and a croissant – and without spilling anything.

Competitors were required to wear a white top, black trousers and a waiter’s apron, the traditional garb for Parisian waiters. The dress code was meant to “pay homage to this legendary historic race”, said Paris Deputy Mayor Dan Lert.

Lert is also president of Eau de Paris. The public service company sponsored the race as part of a public relations campaign to encourage people to drink more tap water and consume fewer single-use plastic water bottles.

The race starts and finishes at the Paris City Hall, an imposing Renaissance Revival building in the 4th arrondissement, close to the River Seine. Competitors must weave their way through some of the narrower streets of Le Marais district, one of the only parts of the city where the cramped alleys common to medieval Paris remain intact.

Racing waiters also have to contend with hordes of tourists coming to explore the Marais, a popular spot for visitors thanks to its elegant 17th-century mansions, the Picasso Museum and writer Victor Hugo’s house.

The district is also known for its boutique shops and, due to its roots as the Jewish Quarter following the French Revolution, home to a couple of famous falafel shops as well.

The race’s female and male winners, ⁠Pauline Van Wymeersch and ⁠Samy Lamrous, were each given tickets to the opening ceremony of the Olympics this summer. Other top finishers received gift cards to restaurants around the city.



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