As It Happens

This U.K. cheese-rolling race is notoriously dangerous. One man has won it 23 times

Chris Anderson has won the Gloucester cheese-rolling race 23 times — and all it cost him was one broken wrist, a bruised kidney and a concussion.

Chris Anderson is laying down his cheese crown after dozens of victories and several injuries

A man with a black moustache, sporting blue jeans and a jersey with a union jack on it, holds a large cheese wheel above his head with one hand. Behind him is a grassy hill with people on it. His clothes are covered in dirt and his mouth is agape.
Chris Anderson won the 2022 Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling race in the English village of Brockworth. This is his 23rd time winning the event. (Coopers Hill Cheese Roll, Brockworth/Facebook )

Story Transcript

Chris Anderson has won the Gloucester cheese-rolling race 23 times — and all it cost him was one broken wrist, a bruised kidney and a concussion.

Anderson, 34, was victorious again at this year's infamously dangerous annual event near Brockworth, England, in which participants launch themselves down a steep hill in pursuit of a rapidly rolling wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. 

It was Anderson's 23rd win, and he came away relatively unscathed compared to previous years. It was also his cheese racing swan song. He plans to help organize next year's event, but he won't be participating.

"I'm just getting too old for it," the cheese-chasing veteran told As It Happens guest host Tom Harrington. "I've been lucky to get away over the years without really hurting myself, and I can't really afford the time off work."

Cancelled for safety, but locals keep on rolling 

The Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is a British tradition dating back to at least 1826, if not earlier, according to the BBC.

Once a year, participants gather at the top of the notoriously steep Cooper's Hill, which, according to National Geographic, bears a gradient of 50 per cent. Someone lobs a cheese wheel down, and the racers take off after it — usually tumbling and crashing into each other as they go. 

  • Watch: The 2022 Gloucester cheese-rolling race in slow motion:

The first person to get to the cheese wins. In practical terms, that means the first person to make it to the bottom of the hill. 

"It's not really realistically possible to catch the cheese," Anderson said, noting the wheel can reach speeds as high as 130 kilometres per hour. 

The last officially sanctioned race happened in 2008. The following year, the town cancelled it over safety concerns. But in 2010, a group of volunteers decided to organize their own cheese-rolling race. 

Local have put on the event every year since, barring pandemic cancellations in 2020 and 2021. One participant told BBC in 2011: "No one's going to stop us doing it."

"It's one of those crazy British traditions," Anderson said. 

Volunteers in black T-shirts help people up at the base of a steep, grassy hill.
A volunteer catches Anderson as he makes it to the bottom of the hill. (Coopers Hill Cheese Roll, Brockworth/Facebook)

This year marked Anderson's first race since 2018. He missed the 2019 race, and the following two were cancelled because of COVID-19. 

He's been racing since he was a teenager, and says he's won every race he's participated in except his first, when he came in second. 

"My brothers and my friends, we used to go up there when we were younger and chuck each other down there. So I had a little bit of experience of going downhill," he said.

Still, it's a dangerous game, even for a seasoned pro. In 2005, he broke his ankle celebrating a win. In 2011, he bruised his kidneys. And in 2007, he struck his head and blacked out.

"But I still won," he said. "Literally, I came across the line unconscious."

A man in a moustache kneels on the grass and poses for a picture with three smiling children. All four of them are wearing matching jerseys with union jacks on them. On the man's knee is a large wheel of cheese covered in signatures. He puts one arm behind a boy's back, and gives a thumbs up with the other.
Anderson poses with his children and his prize cheese. (Coopers Hill Cheese Roll, Brockworth/Facebook)

When he got to the top of the hill this year, he says he felt more nervous than he ever did before. His stomach was doing flip-flops, he said, and he's certain the hill had gotten even steeper since the last time he threw himself down it.

Still, he came out victorious, and largely unscathed. For his efforts, he gets to take home the wheel of cheese — which he admits he doesn't actually like, so he divvies it up among his family.

"I just really wanted to win one this year because we had a daughter just before the pandemic, and I kind of wanted to have a photo of myself with her after winning the cheese roll," Anderson said. "I got a photo with my little daughter and my two older boys. So it was a nice touch. Nice to finish on."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. 

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