Famous cheese-rolling race in Gloucestershire, England, won by Canadian woman

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LONDON — For hundreds of years, people have gathered in Gloucestershire, England, to fling themselves down a notoriously steep hill — in pursuit of a hefty chunk of golden-yellow cheese.

The annual cheese roll, a race dating back centuries, often results in broken bones and concussions as participants tumble, run and bounce down the 180-meter (590-foot) hillside to become the first to cross the finish line.

This year was no exception: Delaney Irving was crowned the winner of the women’s cheese-rolling race Monday — but the 19-year-old Canadian apparently did not actually realize she had won the competition until she regained consciousness in a medical tent shortly after.

“How are you? You took a hell of a tumble,” one British interviewer asked Irving, shortly after she regained consciousness after bumping her head. Irving replied: “Did I?”

In comments to the BBC, she said the event was “good … now that I remember it.”

The teenager was one of hundreds of racers who chased a cheese — a seven-pound full-fat hard cheese named “Double Gloucester” — made by a local cheesemaker from pasteurized or unpasteurized cow’s milk. The cheese can reach up to 70 to 80 mph as it topples down the hill, according to Gloucestershire outlets. Rugby players wait at the bottom of the hill to catch people as they crash across the finish line.

Footage recorded of Irving shows her emerging triumphant — with her lump of precious cheese. She celebrated by lifting the wheel above her head as the crowd around her cheered.

The tradition, according to a website for the modern-day cheese-roll organizers, is believed to be one of the oldest customs to have survived in Britain. A site for the town says the first written evidence of it is found in a message to the town crier in 1826.

It brings spectators from around the world who gather to watch in awe and horror as individuals tumble down the hill.

A 2020 Netflix documentary — on “unique, quirky and bizarre” competitions people may not know about — dubbed the cheese roll as the “world’s most dangerous footrace.” The race has been described by British media as “crazy,” with one outlet describing those running down the hill in the name of cheese as “Gouda control.”

Irving’s mother, Krista Endrizzi, told Canada’s Global News television network that her daughter went to the hospital after the fall to be checked.

“I said, ‘Go to the hospital. And I love you. And you’re crazy. And I love you,’” Endrizzi said, adding that Irving “looked like a rag doll” in video footage of the fall. “But she’s okay so that’s all that matters.”

The rules of the race are simple. Admission is free of charge. Participants must gather at the top of the hill before the race starts. The first person to cross the line wins, and gets to keep the cheese.

But the contest, often labeled an “extreme sport” is not for the fainthearted. Injuries from past races include bruised kidneys, severe concussion, broken bones, sprained ankles and dislocated joints.

“Some people win, some merely finish and many get injured,” a website for the race said, adding that last year’s race resulted in “a number of broken bones, sprains and minor injuries.”

Irving was not the only overseas visitor to take part in the event. An American man dressed as George Washington attended the contest Monday alongside his friend who also dressed as the first president, local media reported. The pair’s day took a dramatic turn when one of the George Washingtons broke their foot amid the downhill race.

Aside from the risks to people, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also expressed concern about the risks to animals. Ahead of the race, they urged organizers of the event to use a vegan cheese instead of the local dairy product. The animal charity said the traditional Double Gloucester wheel was “made by expelling fluid from the underside of an unwilling Gloucester cow,” and urged the cheese-rolling competition to “switch to a vegan cheese,” a move they said would be “better for cows and the planet,” while making the race itself “more inclusive.”

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