Why People Risk Their Lives Chasing Cheese

Every spring in Gloucestershire, UK, people compete for wheels of the local cheese by throwing themselves down a hill.

Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:40 BST

Outside the city of Gloucester, England, at the edge of the scenic Cotswolds region, lies the village of Brockworth.

And just beyond the village stands Cooper's Hill, which is world-famous for three closely related reasons:

One. Every year during the U.K.'s Spring Bank holiday, people send large wheels of Double Gloucester cheese rolling down the hill at 70 miles per hour. (READ: Does cheese taste better in Europe?)

Two. Immediately following each wheel of cheese is a crowd of running race contestants, some of whom may not be completely sober. Racing styles include a sideways roll, and attempting to run, but falling over.

Three. Lots of people watch, and a good number of them film the quasi-athletic challenge, with its ridiculously high level of injuries.

The sometimes slippery 200-yard course down the hill has a steep 50 percent grade, and is uneven.

Double Gloucester is a hard cheese with a buttery flavor, and it gets a one-second head start.

The cheese wheels for the adult men's and women's races weigh roughly eight pounds. A less dangerous children's race, which is uphill, uses a four-pound wheel. (LEARN about unusual types of cheese, although maybe hold off if you're currently eating.)

Each race is decided within seconds.

The event was formerly part of an official "wake"—a local term for a festival. (READ about the U.K.'s largest goth fest.)

But the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling contest has had no official sanction since 2010, because the increased number of visitors raised concerns about safety. For instance, crowds might block the ambulances needed to carry away competitors following the race.

The first recorded Gloucestershire Cheese-Roll happened in 1826, although the tradition is possibly older, and may even once have had a purpose of some kind, although what that might have been is up for debate. Maybe part of a fertility rite? Something to do with livestock grazing?

According to one account shared by the BBC (which remained neutral on the question of the claim's accuracy),in days gone by, the wake also included such events as "wrestling for a belt" and "shin kicking."

Over time, the Cheese-Rolling far eclipsed such other pastimes, drawing international participants and spectators alike, as well as at least one police warning to a cheesemaker suspected of intent to distribute. (READ: Calling cheese the wrong name can get you in trouble with the law.) In 2013, a fake cheese wheel had to suffice, when 86-year-old Diana Smart, longtime provider of the traditionally-crafted Double Gloucester, received word she might face liability for injuries. Real cheese was, however, back for the following race.

As in years past, in the 2018 race, no one actually caught the rolling cheese, which is considered impossible. And in time-honored fashion, people injured themselves.

But this was no ordinary Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling contest.

This year made history.

Champion Roller?

Chris Anderson, 30, has now become the winningest cheese-racer of all time, having claimed history's greatest number of dairy product discs in his 14 years of competition. Over the course of his racing career, he's sustained injuries that include a concussion, bruised kidneys and a broken ankle. In a past interview, the Brockworth hometown favorite said the race was “in his blood.”

Anderson cited trying to stay on his feet as a key strategy in his victorious chase for the circular, casein-rich rounds. With lifetime cheese wheel total now standing at 22, Anderson expressed satisfaction at the record.

But Anderson, a soldier in the British Army, had a serious goal for the silly cheese stunt.

According to the Independent, the all-time cheese champ planned to auction off the winning wheel to benefit Joseph's Goal, which funds research into the rare childhood developmental disorder non-ketotic hyperglycinemia, or NKH.

Presumably, Anderson has eaten little or none of his winnings. He does not like Gloucester cheese, or indeed any kind of cheese, except cheddar—a variety named for the village 40 miles to the southeast, at which there currently are no known hill-based cheese races.

The winner of this year's women's competition, Flo Early, 27, made a brief press appearance before continuing on to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital for her dislocated shoulder.

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