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Every May a wide field of intrepid contestants converges on Cooper’s Hill outside the small village of Gloucester in England. They will throw themselves down the 650-foot hill, risking life and limb, to chase a rolling nine-pound wheel  of double Gloucester cheese. This is the extreme sport of cheese rolling.


No one knows how this strange pastime originated. Some say that it came from an ancient pagan rite of spring, where bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down the hillside to represent the rebirth of spring after the dead of winter. After the burning bundle was rolled down the hill, buns, biscuits, and sweets were scattered over the hilltop as an offering to the spirits and to ensure a plentiful harvest. Likewise, no one knows when the rolling bundle of burning sticks became a wheel of cheese. What we do know is that the event was first recorded for posterity in 1826. Notes on that year’s cheese rolling were recorded by the town crier, and from those notes, it is understood that even then the event had long been a pastime. 
 

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The event is rather simple. Contestants assemble at the top of Cooper’s Hill and wait for the master of ceremonies to push the cheese down the slope. A second after the cheese is released, the contestants follow. The first to grab the cheese is the winner. However, the cheese may reach speeds of up to 70 mph, so usually no one catches the cheese. In that case, the first to cross the finish line is declared the winner. As simple as the competition sounds, there is nothing easy about chasing the cheese down the hill. Each year, many people suffer serious injuries. Paramedics wait at the hill’s foot, ready to cart the injured off to local hospitals. Chris Anderson, a repeat champion, has suffered bruised kidneys,  a concussion, and a torn calf for his victories. 

In 2013, in an attempt to mitigate the risk, the speeding wheel of cheese was swapped with a foam replica. Not to worry, the grand prize still remains. Winners, of course, get to take home the cheese.

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