Unusual Sports: The art of Cheese-Wheeling

This sport emerged sometime in the 1800’s; the exact location and time is still unknown. Some say that it first originated from “Coopers Hill,” a fort in the ancient Roman empire. It was said that had an affinity for sending objects hurling down a hill — how that turned into Cheese-Wheeling, that is also unknown. Today, it can be found in the world famous Gloucester, England where the Cheese-Wheeling event is held every springtime. This competition attracts many spectators from all across England and around the world. Why is this so fascinating? What’s not interesting about a bunch of grown ups chasing after a wheel of cheese? There’s tumbling and diving and wipeouts galore, as the participants scramble to get their hands on the cheese. There’s even a pub close by named “The Cheese Rollers,” where a lot of the contestants go to celebrate beforehand to gain a little liquid courage.

  What’s the objective?  Fourteen participants span out across the top of the hill. The Cheese Wheel is given a one second headstart, then the participants are off! The commentator usually shouts: “‘One to be ready, two to be steady, three to prepare (point when the cheese gets released) and four to be off.’” The original objective of the game was to be the first person to be able to catch the cheese, but getting your hands on this nine-pound, rolling wheel of cheese is no easy task and easily leads to injury. Because of this, the cheese was replaced in 2013 with a replica made of foam. Also, the objective no longer requires the participants/runners to catch the cheese but, rather, just to beat it — whoever crosses the finish line first gets to keep the cheese! The question is: are only cheese-lovers crazy enough to participate in this sport? The only prize that gets won, besides the glory and pride that comes with winning, is being able to take the wheel of cheese home! Is it worth a broken leg and possible concussion over a wheel of cheese? How far would you go to win the cheese? 

Although most races usually have a maximum consisting of 14 racers, there have been events held in the past that had about 40 people competing at one time! It’s important to note that, though this sport may seem silly and maybe seen as immature, it is still a sport. This means that it is still competitive and rough. The sport may seem soft until you see the actual event. Similar to other sports, like baseball and golf, spectators can sometimes get hurt too. Sometimes a contestant trips and tumbles helplessly into the crowd, or another contestant trips over someone else, who then creates this domino effect to all the rest of the runners around them. There are no padding requirements of any kind in this sport; it’s a sort of free-for-all kind of madness, running at top speed down a sloped hill. 

From an inside source, Jim Jones, an operations training manager for St. John Ambulance, who’s been around the sport for awhile, he commented on the sports injuries by saying:  “We usually average around 30 to 40 people who need treatment.” The injuries can range from either a dislocated finger to a hospitalization. One event in particular had 25 people hurt and 12 were spectators! And yet, the contestants still show up, and the spectators continue to watch. It’s one thing to go to a game but another thing to be a part of the game’s violence. It feeds into the sense of the community that comes with the game, and, for better or worse, the crowd is a part of it and interacts with the game. There’s something beautiful and special to be said about the inclusivity of the games’ spectators. That feeling that you get when you are all chanting the same words during a sporting event, that power that you feel tingling inside of you … Well, maybe that’s why they play.