Monday, May 26, 2008

Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling 2008

GLOUCESTER, England - Fearless thrill-seekers on Monday flipped, slipped, somersaulted and tumbled down a suicidally steep slope in western England to try to catch a giant runaway circle of cheese.

The cheese rolling event at Coopers Hill is one of Britain's more unusual annual events and is not for the faint-hearted but it was made even more perilous this year by torrential rain that turned the course into a mudbath.

Organisers claimed the downpours that lashed much of southern Britain over the weekend made the vertiginous slope softer underfoot but more than 30 first aid volunteers were kept busy as 19 people limped in with injuries.

A 19-year-old man, Christopher Anderson, won the first race but was carried from the hill on a spinal board after tumbling past the finish line head over heels, hurting his back in the process.

"The conditions were horrific, you just have to get your head down and hope for the best," said his friend, Shane Beard. "Chris went absolutely flying -- he is completely fearless but I hope he hasn't hurt himself."

More than 3,000 people cheered on the competitors, many of whom came from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and Japan, as they careered down the 200-metre slope in five bone-crunching races.

In parts, the normally grassy hill has a 1:1 gradient.

A 17-year-old student, Flo Early, won the women's race and got to keep the wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. She then declared: "Next year I want to take on the boys."

Cheese rolling is thought to date back as far as the ancient Britons or the Romans, but no one knows for sure how the race started. During rationing between 1941 and 1954, a wooden substitute with a token piece of cheese inside was chased by competitors.

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