The Cigar Smoking World Championship qualification circuit is over. Only the Grand Finale in the Croatian coastal city of Split is left. Today, September 3, a new slow smoking champion will be born, but who will it be?
This year competitions were held in no less than 30 countries, some with pre-qualifiers. The US alone had 17 regional showdowns before the national final in Indianapolis. On top of that, several events called Time Chases have taken place as a spot on the top 20 of the season also means a place in the final. Some races were really, really close. In India Pranav Aggarwal was just one and eight minutes ahead of second and third place, in Belgium the difference was only 47 seconds when Anthony Baert beat Gilles Tanghe and in Croatia it was even closer when was Guy Pardillos was crowned champion. In the end only 29 seconds separated him from Ivan Zizic.
Other contests weren’t dramatic at all. In Germany former world champion Hauke Walter formally crushed all competition when he managed to smoke for 3 hours 19 minutes and 2 seconds, almost one and a half hour longer than second place, Mattias Probst, who incidentally missed the top 20 with only 49 seconds. But the biggest surprise might have been Drew Emch not only winning the US final, but also beating Walter’s time by 22 seconds, thereby claiming the number one spot on the top 20 of the season.
Poland stands out with no more than eight people on that list, five of who are in the top 10. In other words, there are more contestants than ever. Some of the favorites have been eliminated already, like world record holder Igor Kovacic from Sweden, while some came through by making into the top 20 instead, like Paresh Patel in the UK and aforementioned Zizic from Croatia.
Including some wild cards a total of 48 smokers will compete in Split. Walter and Emch are of course two of the favorites, alongside defending world champion Henrik Kristensson from Sweden. He actually didn’t make it to the Swedish qualifier this year but he showed his form when he smoked for 2 hours 50 minutes and 55 seconds at a Time Chase event in Sweden. That gave him fourth place on the top 20. Third on that list is Borys Szkodzik from Poland, and who knows, maybe he and the gigantic Polish smoking team can incentivize each other to a collective win. In the end it’s all up in the air, pun intended. The conditions of Saturday’s final might favor some of the less experienced smokers and with the amount of newcomers this year we might even see a completely new face on top of the winner’s podium. Soon we’ll know.
“With new names and old legends competing in the final race, this will be one of the most exciting Grand Finals ever,” Marko Bilic, CSWC founder, says. “This CSWC season has given us a feeling that the Grand Finale will be historic. It was bigger than ever and it’s been full of emotions and surprises.”