How much do you like cheese?

Enough to chase it down a steep, boulder-riddled hill?

The round of cheese, ranging from 7–9 pounds, reaches speeds of up to 110 km/h — Photo credit / CBC

By: Dylan Webb, Sports Editor

As a food-oriented individual, the idea of chasing food is nothing new to me. I’ve chased food trucks and farmers markets all across the Lower Mainland in search of delicious rewards. On the other hand, as a sports fan, I’ve enjoyed watching races in a wide variety of formats, from running to F1 to horses. So when I first heard about the annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling event, it struck me as nothing more than a logical pairing of two great things into one awesome event: racing and food. This was all before I actually got the chance to view the race with my own eyes. Once I saw a video of the event, and, more specifically, once I saw the grade of the hill the event takes place on, I realized my passion for food, and racing, pales in comparison to that of the participants in the annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling. 

Taking place annually on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester, England, the cheese rolling event has evolved over many years into a four-race tournament including one ladies only race. While the first written evidence of cheese rolling events traces back to 1826, many argue some version of the event has taken place for over two hundred years. 

One of the most notable features of the event is the hill itself. Cooper’s Hill has a gradient of almost 50%, with sections of the hill defined as “almost vertical.” For this reason, it’s almost impossible for participants in the race to remain on their feet, which results in about as much, or more, rolling and tumbling than actual running down the hill. It’s this feature of the event that is largely responsible for its increasing popularity, as viral videos of multiple individuals crashing and banging down a hill in pursuit of a round of cheese have reached the highlight reels of many major sports networks across the globe. 

Of course, all this rolling and tumbling frequently results in injuries — sometimes major ones. Those close to the event report countless injuries per year to both participants and spectators, which necessitates the presence of countless ambulances, volunteer paramedics, and a handful of hospital visits for serious injuries following the event. Surely, in some twisted way, this imminent risk of injury is part of the appeal of the event. On this note, Australian author Sam Vincent wrote that he questioned his own sanity as he stood “crouched on the summit of a diabolical slope” while “awaiting the call to start what is surely the world’s most dangerous footrace.”

So, why does an increasingly large group of people risk life and limb tumbling down a dirty, rock-ridden quasi-cliff every year? For cheese, of course! Though recently the actual cheese being chased down the hill has been replaced by a foam wheel to reduce the risk of injuries for spectators, the reward for winning the race remains lucrative: a seven to nine pound round of double Gloucester hard cheese. Here’s the kicker though: the cheese can never actually be caught, as it’s given at least a one second head start and soon reaches breakneck speeds. Instead, the cheese is awarded to the first person down the hill

Words can only go so far in explaining the unique combination of appeal and ridiculousness the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling event provides. If you’re looking for a new and obscure sport to watch, check out previous races on YouTube or, better yet, travel to Gloucester and chase the cheese yourself (just don’t hold me liable for your inevitable injury).