In This English Countryside Race, the Winner Takes the … Cheese - The World News

In This English Countryside Race, the Winner Takes the … Cheese

“Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!” hundreds of people chanted at the top of their lungs.

An eight-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese flew down a hill. Seconds later, a cascade of two dozen people tumbled after it. The first person to reach the bottom of the hill, which is so steep that it is almost impossible to remain standing while sprinting down it, wins.

The cheese-chasing contest, one of the most peculiar traditions in England, if not the world, dates to at least the early 1800s, according to local lore. Though it’s unclear why the race started — some say it had to do with grazing rights on the land, or a fertility ritual — today, people come from around the world to see or participate in the event themselves.

Thousands showed up to Cooper’s Hill in southwestern England to watch on Monday, undeterred after the local authorities deemed the event unsafe for competitors and spectators alike. The winners hailed from as close as Gloucestershire and as far away as Germany, the United States and Australia.

Dylan Twiss, a 25-year-old from Perth, Australia, who won one of the races, said that as soon as he realized he would be in England when the competition took place, he knew he had to compete. “I said, ‘All right, I’m going, and I’m winning it,’” he said.

At the top of the 200-yard hill, said Mr. Twiss, an outdoors instructor, he tried to stay relaxed. As soon as the race began, he was “literally just rolling with it,” running and tumbling as fast as he could. “I’ve got a gash on the knee, but that is a small price to pay,” he said, holding the prize: a large wheel of Double Gloucester.

Before the first race, it started raining, and the crowd began to agitate. “Put your brollies down!” onlookers yelled, using the popular British term for umbrellas, frustrated that their views of Cooper’s Hill were being blocked.

The rain, while brief, may have turned out to be a blessing. A volunteer paramedic said it had made the ground much softer and therefore safer for those hurtling down it. In years with no rain, he said, he is typically “running around like a headless chicken” to provide medical treatment to contestants.

It was not clear whether anyone was seriously injured this year, although there were plenty of bumps and bruises. Two men limped off the hill, clutching their ribs, and at least one person said he had gone to the hospital.

Last year, one of the winners, Delaney Irving of Canada, was knocked unconscious just before crossing the finish line. In 1997, more than 30 people had to be treated by paramedics, according to the local news outlet Gloucestershire Live.

The participants couldn’t say they weren’t warned: Before the event, Arman Mathieson, assistant chief constable of the Gloucestershire Constabulary, advised those who attended to participate or watch to “consider the risk.”

The race involves no sign-up form or waivers. There were three men’s races and one women’s race, each with about 25 people, as well as an uphill race for children and another for adults. To compete, participants just need to show up at the top of the hill and jostle their ways to the starting line.

Lewis Graves, a police officer who finished in the top five of one of the men’s races, was covered in mud and had blood streaming down his knee after the race. He ran for the first few seconds and then tumbled down most of the hill.

“As soon as you get rolling, you’re not stopping,” said Mr. Graves, 24, who lives about two hours away. He shrugged off any warnings about risk. “I know what I was getting myself into,” he said, though he added that he would probably not compete again.

Spectators were enthralled by the scene. “It’s pretty mad,” said James Collins, a photographer who had come to see the race out of curiosity.

“I just wanted to see people throw themselves down a hill,” said another spectator, Vega Salsbury, 19. “Looking at it now, it’s so steep.”

One of the winners, Abby Lampe, a financial services consultant in Raleigh, N.C., won her second title, after winning two years ago. (She missed last year because of a Taylor Swift concert.) Thankfully, she sustained no serious injuries in the race.

“It went the best as it could have,” Ms. Lampe, 23, said. “I wanted to do it again, to defend the title, to bring it back to the U.S.”

As for her trophy? She said she would ship it home and store it in her fridge. It will go under what’s left of her 2022 prize, another wheel of Double Gloucester cheese.

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