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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Katharine Tuck's sneakers are equal opportunity offenders. They smell as bad as they look.
Now, the 13-year-old Utah girl is $2,500 richer because of it: She out-ranked six other children Tuesday to win the 32nd annual National Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest, stinking up the joint with a pair of well-worn 1 1/2-year-old Nikes so noxious they had the judges wincing.
"I'm so proud of the little stinker," said her mother, Paula Tuck.
Ah, the foul smell of success.
The contest, which started in 1975 as a store promotion and is now sponsored by the maker of anti-foot odor products, pits children from around the nation who have won state competitions for the cruddy condition of their footwear.
Kyle Underwood, 9, was in from Las Cruces, N.M., with his low-cut black Starters, the ones with the blown-out toe on the right foot. "These are bad," sighed judge Andy Brewer. "Ooh, these are really bad."
Michael Nduka, 9, of White Plains, N.Y., was there, too, with his ratty black-and-white low-cuts, which were passed from judge to judge for inspection.
William Fraser, who is Montpelier's city manager, held one up using the tip of a pen, like a crime scene investigator trying not to spoil the evidence.
Eleven-year-old Alex Clark's sneakers had tape over the holes in the toes, and the instep of one was blown out. When judge George Aldrich took a whiff, he coughed and then handed the sneaker back to Clark.
"I saw you flinch," Aldrich told the youngster.
"As a parent, you want to hide," said Kathy Midgley, 48, of Berkeley Heights, N.J., who was there to watch her 8-year-old son.
Clad in Odor-Eaters baseball caps and Odor-Eaters T-shirts, the contestants had to jump in place once and then make one full turn before taking off their shoes and handing them to the judges. It was 24 degrees outside, but only one of them wore socks -- since foot sweat is a boon not a bane in this game.
Odor-Eaters paid to fly eight contestants and parents to Vermont, but not all arrived on time. Devin Koivisto, 12, of Phoenix, didn't make it due to travel problems.
Tuck almost didn't, either: Her flight to Newark, N.J., was delayed, forcing she and her father to miss a connecting flight to Vermont. They drove the rest of the way, but their luggage still hadn't arrived Tuesday.
But her mother had the wisdom to warn Tuck not to ship her prized shoes in her checked baggage, lest they get lost en route.
Mercifully for airport-security screeners, she didn't wear them, either, opting to carry them in her purse.
For these sneakers, the smell was only the half of it. Ripped on the right toe, with red and yellow duct tape holding one together and frayed laces on both, they looked like something from a landfill.
She has worn them to play soccer, basketball and other sports, hiked in them and waded in the Great Salt Lake, where they became infiltrated with brine shrimp.
"People ask me why I don't get new ones and why I would enter a contest like this," she said before the judging started.
Once it did, she called her mother on a cell phone and kept the line open so Paula Tuck could listen in.
Once Fraser got a look -- and a whiff -- of Tuck's Nikes, he took the phone from her. "Do you actually let her wear these in public?" he asked her mother back in Tooele, Utah.
After the judges' decision was announced, Tuck shyly granted interviews. Was she proud? "Yeah, I guess."
"She's going to put this on her first job application," said her father, Michael Tuck.
"I am?" she said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)