You won’t find the term ‘plowwoman’ in the dictionary, but you will find two such people going for gold at the World Plowing Championship in Olds on July 19-20.
The Austrian entry of Barbara Klaus and Margareta Heigl stands out among the 28 other teams in the competition for their youth — at 24 and 21, respectively, they are among the youngest competitors — but moreso for the fact that they are the first all-woman team to compete in the championship, now in its 60th year.
The duo from the state of Lower Austria in the east of the country have been plowing for years, and this year beat out a deep crop of plowmen in their national competition to earn the right to compete in Olds. Heigl says the two are the only female plowers in Austria.
“My two brothers were plowing, and I always said when I was a little girl, ‘I want to plow too.’
“We don’t know why more women are not plowing. We like it,” she said.
Team Austria is bigger than just Klaus and Heigl, though, with mechanic Mario Schildendorfer and coaches Josef Heigl and two-time WPC winner Hermann Altmann, nicknamed the “über guru” also having made the trip.
The women’s tractors too, festooned as they are with dozens of sponsors’ stickers, recently arrived in shipping containers.
The team has been in Olds for more than two weeks, practicing in some area fields in the dark Alberta soil they say is “very sticky; very different from Austria.”
By the end of the week, competitors from as far afield as New Zealand and Kenya will all have arrived, with many teams shipping over their equipment from their home countries.
There are two categories of competition at the WPC — conventional and reversible plowing, with each team member focusing on one category.
Team Germany’s Sebastian Murkowski will seek to challenge for reversible gold, a fitting category for the 26-year-old who certainly did not take the conventional way to get to Olds, starting in Seattle and then hitchhiking his way to Central Alberta.
Murkowski worked on a neighbour’s farm as a youth, and benefitted from the German plowing federation’s age cut-off at 35. When his neighbour, also a plowman, had to quit upon his 35th birthday, his equipment was sitting unused until Murkowski decided to give it a try.
He finished ninth in his only other WPC in Sweden in 2011, and is grateful he arrived early this year to get a handle on the prairie soil.
“It’s a really interesting type of soil. It’s totally different from at home. It’s difficult,” he said.
Plowing the unique dark prairie soil also projects to be a challenge for Danes Flemming Thorsager and Søren Korsgaard, who are teamed up again 10 years after they competed together at the WPC in Guelph, Ont. Thorsager, 46, had retired from plowing, but came back in 2012 to win the Danish conventional title.
“My oldest son is old enough to drive a tractor now and he wanted to go to the plowing competition last year, and the old man said ‘Well, I can pack up and go with you.’ When I was qualified, I couldn’t say no to go to Canada,” he said.
While the Danish pair are an experienced twosome, they predict that the plowmen from the British Isles will be the ones to beat in 2013.
Brits and Irishmen, they say, are able to compete all through the wintertime due to their climate and soil, gaining more experience.
Competitors from Northern Ireland have won 10 times in the conventional category at the WPC, while Englishmen have taken nine of the 21 reversible titles handed out since 1992.
But history also favours the Austrian team, as their compatriots have won 12 conventional titles in the WPC’s history.
One of the men who will be determining 2013’s winners is judge and Canadian Plowing Organization chairman Lynn McDonald.
He and 27 other judges will be considering the consistency of furrows, the presence of wheel marks, and straightness in their evaluations.
Although some competitors have spent thousands of dollars getting themselves and their equipment to Olds, there is “not one red cent” in prize money given out at the WPC. Instead, winners will receive the Golden Plow trophy.
Olds is the first location to host the WPC twice, having also been the site for the 1986 event.
This year’s event corresponds with Olds College’s centennial.
Daily admission tickets are available for $10/person or $5 for seniors and youth. Contact Rachel at 403-507-7718, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Olds College for tickets.
The competition starts at 10 a.m. each day.
For more information, visit www.worldplowing2013.com.