Hadley: Cheese and bulls: extreme sports?
Greg Hadley | Thursday, October 9, 2014
Are you tired of ceaseless conversation about the NFL? Do you feel left out when your friends talk about the Heisman race? Was your team bounced from the MLB postseason all too soon?
If so, then ESPN is not the place for you, sports fan. Probably not Sports Illustrated either. Mainstream sports journalists can’t take their eyes off the pennant race and the College Football Playoff.
But, hey, just because you don’t want to talk about America’s two favorite pastimes doesn’t mean you don’t want to talk sports. So let’s talk. Let’s talk about something weird, something offbeat and completely outside the box. Not the four major North American sports, not soccer, not golf or tennis or rugby or autoracing. All of that is entirely mundane and thoroughly ordinary. Let’s talk about running with the bulls and rolling after the cheese.
Almost everyone knows about the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain that takes place in July every year during the festival of San Fermin. Hundreds of thrill-seekers — or insane individuals, depending on how you look at it — decide to bet their lives and race about half a mile against massive animals with sharp horns in a confined space.
But what the heck is cheese rolling?
For the woefully uninitiated, cheese rolling is an annual tradition in Gloucester, Scotland. A 9-pound wheel of cheese is rolled down a hill, and a group of men race down after it. First to the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. Sounds simple right?
However, this is not your average hill. It is so steep, rough and uneven that no one stays on his feet. Basically, people throw themselves down a cliff and pray for dear life. And good luck actually catching the cheese. Thanks to gravity, that wheel comes flying down at absurd speeds. It was once knocked off course and hit a spectator, who had to be rushed to the hospital.
Part of the appeal of sports is an element of danger, and running with the bulls and cheese rolling certainly have more than their fair share of that. They also have centuries of tradition between them. Thousands of people continue to travel to Gloucester and Pamplona year after year to participate.
So, say you — the thrill-seeking, adrenaline junkie — could compete only in one. Which one is worth your time and — potentially — your health? Let’s break it down.
Element of Danger and Excitement
For some people, this might be a good reason to stay home. I would say, though, that if you are crazy enough to do one, you probably want as much danger and excitement as possible. If so, Pamplona is for you. With all due respect to the good chasers of cheese, there is simply nothing like trying to out-run 15 bulls that weigh between 600 and 700 pounds in a crowd of hundreds. In Gloucester, there is less unpredictability. You know you will not catch the cheese and you will wipe out in spectacular fashion. That may be fun, but there’s no thrill of imminent danger.
Athletic Ability Required
Both events require an enormous amount of courage that borders on recklessness, but the one that requires physical strength and speed should be the one the sports fan is drawn to. And once again, that’s Pamplona. A half-mile of sprinting for your life is no joke. Meanwhile, YouTube videos of the cheese roll clearly show that half the race is just throwing yourself down a hill and hoping your body is aerodynamic and pliable enough. To be fair, there is also a need for toughness and balance, but whereas running with the bulls is a purely physical challenge, cheese rolling takes a fair bit of luck.
Any good sports fan is not simply satisfied with a rush of excitement. We want the thrill of competition, and that’s where cheese rolling comes in. Even if there is luck involved, it’s still a race. Pamplona, on the other hand, doesn’t really have a winner and a loser unless you count getting injured as losing. Still, I prefer a clear result. First down the hill wins. No one cares who out-runs the bulls the most.
All great sporting events have a great prize. The Stanley Cup. The Lombardi Trophy. The Claret Jug. The Commissioner’s Trophy. Gloucester continues this proud tradition by presenting the winner of each race with the cheese they just chased. While this may not seem like a proper reward for risking health and happiness, think about all the practical uses. Your sandwiches will be cheesy for weeks. You could host a wine and cheese party. If your car breaks down, you have a spare wheel right there. Or you can just leave it be and let it age nicely. If none of these options appeal to you, consider this: There is no reward for finishing the run with the bulls.
Of course, in terms of being completely bonkers, you can’t go wrong with either event. Personally, I prefer chasing to being chased, especially when that means pursuing a massive hunk of curdled milk and not being pursued by a lumbering, glorified cow.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.