Chasing Cheese Wheels or Lugging Sacks of Wool, UK Competitors Embrace Quirky Extreme Races

 People compete in the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling competition in Brockworth, Britain May 27, 2024. (Reuters)
People compete in the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling competition in Brockworth, Britain May 27, 2024. (Reuters)
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Chasing Cheese Wheels or Lugging Sacks of Wool, UK Competitors Embrace Quirky Extreme Races

 People compete in the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling competition in Brockworth, Britain May 27, 2024. (Reuters)
People compete in the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling competition in Brockworth, Britain May 27, 2024. (Reuters)

Dairy-loving daredevils threw caution to the wind Monday for one of Britain’s most extreme annual events: Cheese rolling.

Cheered by several thousand spectators, scores of reckless racers chased 7-pound (3 kilogram) wheels of Double Gloucester cheese down the near-vertical Cooper’s Hill, near Gloucester in southwest England. The first racer to finish behind the fast-rolling cheese in each race gets to keep it.

The races have been held at Cooper’s Hill, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of London, since at least 1826, and the sport of cheese-rolling is believed to be much older.

The rough-and-tumble event often comes with safety concerns. Few competitors manage to stay on their feet all the way down the 200-yard (180 meter) hill.

This year’s hill was especially slippery and muddy after recent rain. Members of a local rugby club lined up at the bottom to catch the tumbling competitors.

Tom Kopke from Munich, Germany won one of the three men's races. He said attitude was more important than technique.

"You start and then the adrenaline takes over and you just go, go go," Kopke said.

"Look at this event, look at this hill," added the muddy, breathless winner. "England is mad. I love it."

Local competitor Josh Shepherd and Dylan Twiss from Perth, Australia won the other two men's downhill races. Abby Lampe from North Carolina triumphed in the women’s race with a lighting-fast roll that left the rest of the field far behind.

"You just have to roll," said Lampe, a graduate of NC State who also won in 2022. "There’s a little bit of pain, but it’s just going to be temporary."

Dozens of children and adults also competed in safer and slower, but no less grueling, uphill versions of the race, which are traditionally held on a late-May national holiday.

About 20 miles (32 kilometers) away in the town of Tetbury, competitors carried sacks of wool weighing up to 60 pounds (27 kilograms) over a 240-yard (220-meter) course up and down steep Gumstool Hill.

The Tetbury Woolsack Races have been held since 1972, drawing on a local tradition dating back to the 17th century in the historic wool-trading town.



What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
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What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)

During a visit to Australia this week, Chinese Premier Li Qiang made a classic goodwill gesture that boded well for relations between the two countries: he offered to send pandas.
The offer comes as ties between Australia and its largest trading partner improve after a diplomatic dispute that led to China imposing a raft of restrictions on Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020.
Native to China, pandas have through the years become "envoys of friendship", earning China's outreach to countries it gifts the animals to the name of panda diplomacy, Reuters said.
They have also been used to show Chinese anger.
So what is panda diplomacy and how does it work?
WHEN DID PANDA DIPLOMACY START?
Since its founding in 1949, the People's Republic of China has used panda diplomacy to boost its international image, either by gifting or lending panda to foreign zoos as goodwill animal ambassadors.
Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1957 gifted a panda, Ping Ping, to the former Soviet Union to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution that ushered in the Soviet regime.
To further cement ties with its socialist allies, China dispatched another panda to the Soviet Union in 1959 and five more to North Korea between 1965 and 1980.
In 1972, Beijing gifted two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, to the United States after then President Richard Nixon's historic visit, in a sign of normalized China-US relations and marking a pivotal moment for China's foreign policy.
Since then, other countries including Japan, France, Britain and Spain have also been given panda.
WHAT'S THE PANDA DIPLOMACY POLICY?
Since 1984, China stopped gifting pandas due to their dwindling numbers and began loaning them to overseas zoos instead, often in pairs for 10 years, with an annual fee of up to about $1 million.
While keeping pandas can be costly for zoos, they are seen as drawcards for visitors and help generate income.
The pandas typically return home to southwest China after the loan agreement ends. Panda cubs born overseas are no exception, and would be sent home between the age of two and four to join a Chinese breeding program.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
China has a history of using pandas to reward its trading partners. A 2013 Oxford University study said the timing of China's lease of pandas to Canada, France and Australia "coincided with" uranium deals and contracts with these countries.
The panda agreements with other countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, also coincided with the signing of free-trade agreements.
Sometimes, pandas are also used to express China's displeasure with a nation.
In 2010, China recalled two US-born pandas, Tai Shan and Mei Lan, after Beijing warned Washington against a scheduled meeting between then-President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, which Beijing views as a dangerous separatist.
In a recent downturn in bilateral ties, Ya Ya, on loan to the US for 20 years, was returned in April 2023.
Concerns over her health had also fanned nationalist sentiment on China's social media, with animal advocates accusing the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee of providing inadequate care to the animal.
In November last year, three other pandas left, leaving only four giant pandas on US soil.
That month, Chinese President Xi Jinping then hinted that he was open to sending more pandas to the US after meeting with President Joe Biden in California, a gesture seen as Chinese willingness to improve ties.
ARE PANDAS STILL ENDANGERED?
China's domestic conservation programs have seen the status of pandas improve from endangered to vulnerable.
The population of giant pandas in the wild has grown from around 1,100 in the 1980s to 1,900 in 2023.
There are currently 728 pandas in zoos and breeding centers around the world.