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Racers gather from around the globe to chase dairy down the hill in Gloucester

Timothy Spierings

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Cheese-racers tumbled down Cooper’s Hill in the first men’s downhill race, with eventual winner Max McDougall out front, the Independent said.

The first international sport to kick off this column is found in the United Kingdom. At Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester, participants race down a steep hill. The first to reach the bottom wins.

However, not only people compete in this race. Participants also race against a single wheel of cheese.

While the goal is to beat the cheese down the hill, it is regarded as impossible in reality. ITV reports that the cheese, a wheel of Double Gloucester, is nine pounds and can roll down the hill faster than 70 miles per hour.

Officially called “Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake,” cheese-rolling has been an annual sport outing in Gloucester for a long time, with its origin year being unclear. Gizmodo claims that cheese rolling has taken place since the 15th century, whereas SoGlos claims it started in the 1800s.

Mark Kit, a 2019 winner of one of the men’s downhill races, told the Independent about his experience during the race. Kit participated despite getting bronchitis the day before.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Kit said. “I took the first 10 steps and I just started sliding and the next thing I knew I was at the bottom and nobody else beat me.”

Amusing Planet said the official competition was shut down in 1998 due to 33 injuries in the preceding year. It was also officially shut down in 2010 for the same concerns, according to BBC, for safety reasons. However, the event continues today.

The past 2019 competition featured a participant stretchered off of the 50 percent gradient hill for a suspected fractured ankle, according to BBC.

“It was better than last year when I knocked myself out,” Max McDougall said to BBC, the winner of the first men’s downhill race. “I normally come second to Chris (Anderson). I just went for it, pick a line and stick to it.”

Chris Anderson, while unable to attend the 2019 competition, has the title of “winningest cheese-racer of all time” from National Geographic.

Despite only liking cheddar cheese — which the wheel is not made of — Anderson has raced down the hill for his prize wheel a total of 22 times over 14 years.

In his last victory in 2018, Anderson even managed to tear his calf in his pursuit of victory.

There are four races to compete in, three for men and one for women, Gizmodo reported. Each race features 15 runners maximum. However, past years have held up to 40 runners at once.

Winners of the 2019 Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Roll and Wake were McDougall, Kit, and Ryan Fairley, with Flo Early winning the women’s race.

Early, a four-time winner of the women’s race, announced her retirement from the sport after the race in 2019, Independent said.

“I’m done now, this is it, I’m retired,” Early said. “I’m in pain with this ankle, it’s a sprain but it feels pretty uncomfortable.”

National Post wrote that winning a race results in a prize of a cow’s milk, Double Gloucester cheese wheel made by Diana Smart and her son, who have been supplying the cheese for 25 years.

At one point in 2013, Gizmodo wrote that Smart was told by police that if she continued to supply cheese she would be held responsible for the injuries caused by the event. To avoid this, a foam cheese was used that year.

The next cheese-roll in 2014, however, featured Smart’s cheese rocketing down the hill.

The 2020 cheese-rolling competition will be on Monday, May 25. More information can be found at officialcheeserolling.com.

Spierings can be reached at [email protected]