Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ritual hillside chase takes its toll

Lee Glendinning
Tuesday May 30, 2006


They come out of it with bruises, dislocations, the odd fracture and always cuts and grazes. But thousands of people chose to spend yesterday watching people diving for cover from a flying cheese, or somersaulting down after it on a Gloucestershire hillside.

Since the cheese rolling competition incarnation - thought to lie in a heathen festival celebrating the return of spring - it has been one of the ultimate displays of danger over logic. Competitors throw themselves down Cooper's Hill, near Brockworth, Gloucestershire (which has a 1:2 gradient) to chase a Double Gloucester cheese down a 200-metre slope.

Spectators, including the 3,000 who turned up in the turbulent weather yesterday, are far from immune to injury, and the number of the audience hurt this year almost equalled those injured in the competition. A mountain rescue team from Search and Rescue Assistants in Disasters, backed up by volunteers from St John's ambulance, treated 25 people for injuries. Two were taken to hospital.

Jim Jones, the charity's operations training manager, said 12 spectators and 13 competitors were hurt."It was a reasonable year, not too bad," he said."We usually average around 30-40 people who need treatment. The most serious injuries this year appear to be a dislocated finger and a possible fractured ankle."

Organisers said that the wet conditions had cut the number of injuries, because people slipped down rather than tumbling head over heels.

The winners take home a 3.6kg (8lb) cheese.

Jason Crowther, 24, from Wales, who won his race for the second successive year, said: "I have no real tactic; I ran and hoped for the best. I'm going to take my cheese to the pub and have a party."

Next year's event will be on Monday, May 28, 2007. For details check out www.cheese-rolling.co.uk

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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