The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll is typically British, delightfully silly and only somewhat dangerous. That’s exactly what it sounds like – a race in which a wheel of cheese rolls down a steep hill and is followed by hundreds of people. Dating back centuries in Gloucestershire, it is considered an extreme sport and if you watch even for a few seconds, it is hard to argue: What could be more extreme than throwing yourself down a hill in pursuit of cheese? And what is more sport than competition?
After the pandemic ended, the cheese roll took place for the first time in two years on Sunday. But this year’s women’s champion hadn’t just been waiting for him for a long time – she had come a long way, too.
Women’s cheese roll champion Abby Lamp, 21, is a native of North Carolina and recently graduated from North Carolina State University. This was her first time in Gloucestershire. She only came for the cheese.
“Where are you from?” begins her interview for passion. “I’m from North Carolina,” says a happy, variegated lamp. “And what brings you here?” The surprised interviewer asks. Lampe smiles, excited, clutching his prize. “The cheese race!”
After Lampe’s college plans to study abroad were disrupted by the pandemic, she is now traveling around Europe in August and naturally had to include a trip to Gloucestershire, specific to cheese rolls. She talked to Sports Illustrated for her preparation, her victory, and her plans for the cheese.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and length.
Sports Illustrated: How did you first learn about the cheese roll?
Abi lamp: It was definitely from social media. It’s been a few years since I knew about this, from YouTube compilations and whatnot. But this year it was raised again and I told my friends – I would do it.
SI: What made you say Okay, it’s not enough to just watch this, I have to participate, I have to be a cheese roll too?
AL: This is a funny thing. I like to do competitions, especially those that are unclear – I participated in the Krispy Kreme Challenge [where participants eat a dozen donuts halfway through a five-mile race]. I’m just a very competitive person. I grew up very competitive and I knew it was something interesting and one of a kind, so I really wanted to participate and contribute to such an event.
SI: Did you prepare for that at all? Or did you just think that you would go out and spin with him?
AL: Oh, I’m 100% prepared for that. I graduated from NC State as an industrial and systems engineer and I think that’s one of the things that makes me want to be prepared for something like this. So before I left the United States, I was rolling down a hill, going to Dorothea Dix Park, a local park next to Raleigh, and rolling down a few hills, trying to figure out the best way to roll down a hill. And I thought it was fun and everything, but compared to Cooper’s Hill it was light. There was no comparison. So I actually watched hours of movies the week before the cheese race. Because I wanted to understand their strategies and where they came from and how they are developing.
Then, on Friday, I went to Gloucestershire, went to Coopers Hill and took a test. I had no idea what to expect. But this is so no what I expected. It was much deeper personally than it appears in videos or photos. So I did that, and one of my friends was with me, and I slid about halfway down the hill, and then I tripped and rubbed the rest of the way. I didn’t even go at full speed – I didn’t want to, because I would come across the metal casings that surrounded the hill, and there were no rugby players to stop me. Because in the competition they have rugby players who can stop everyone.
SI: What did you learn? Or, I guess, what was the difference between moving for the first time in Dorothea Dix Park to watching a movie until the last training run?
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AL: So for most of the film, they stayed on their feet for a while. In fact, I watched a lot of videos of Flo Early – she’s the current champion of the women’s competition, she’s won four times and I actually had to meet her on Sunday, which was amazing. She introduced me to the cheese. So it was amazing. But I just learned that you can’t control much of it. From Friday to Sunday I was like, Oh, could it be better? Can i be fine But not that I was better; I just did a lot more on Sunday.
SI: In repetition, you seem to separate from the pack quite early, before tightening later. Was there a midpoint when you realized Hey, can I win this?
AL: I had no idea where I was. I was just hoping to get off the hill. I realized I was rolling diagonally at one point, but I didn’t know how far or anything, I had no idea where I was in relation to the hill and how close I was to the finish line. I had no idea there was anyone so close to me. I was just trying my best.
SI: Are you covered in bruises right now?
AL: Actually not. I have a few bruises on my left leg, and then I have a few scratches, very light scratches on my face, because somehow I ate it there a few times. There was definitely dirt in my teeth. But, no, I’m not worse for wear and tear, to be honest. This is really shocking.
SI: That’s right – there were real injuries, it sounded like that and you as a winner come out unscathed!
AL: Yes, one of the boys almost broke his leg, I think. On Friday, during my test run, I am prone to ankle injuries – as I grew older, I exercised and sprained my ankle a lot. So on Friday I straightened my ankle a bit and was worried that it would end up breaking or spraining in Sunday’s race. In fact, I prematurely made my friend bring me an ankle brace – I ordered one from Amazon and she will visit me in a few days, so I told her to bring it. But I don’t need it now. So maybe she can bring it back.
Editor’s note: Past injuries from cheese rolls include kidney injuries, concussions and broken ankles.
SI: Does anything in the experience surprise you?
AL: My God, yes, so many things. The hill, on the one hand, was huge. It revealed the whole town of Brockworth in Gloucestershire, which was amazing. And he could be seen at the top of the hill. People came to the hill to watch the race, which was so interesting. There was just an absurd crowd and the atmosphere was amazing. They chanted and shouted “Cheese, cheese cheese,” which was really funny. … And people, I didn’t expect them to be so nice after I won. Parents wanted pictures with their children, and it was crazy to be the king of the hill for a few hours. I’ve never made so many people want my photos before.
SI: How did the people react to the American victory?
AL: There was no difference, really. There were some Americans in the crowd and they said, “We are so proud of you; we can’t believe an American won. ” … And the people of North Carolina, my friends and family, are going crazy. They are so supportive and so proud. I’m just happy to have won from North Carolina and the state of North Carolina.
SI: And you can keep the cheese, right? [It’s a 9-pound wheel of Double Gloucester.]
AL: Oh yeah. I actually spent four hours today trying to figure out how to send it – I went to four different places. I think transporting the cheese was the hardest part of the whole ordeal. For example, the descent was 15 seconds. But delivering the cheese was definitely a far more difficult experience.
SI: So it’s safe to be on your way to North Carolina now?
AL: Yes, that’s right or I hope so. I received the delivery confirmation notes – the person who sent it, I think, did it quite well. He said he put it as a personal product, not as a gift so they wouldn’t open it, and put it as a cheese sample, not as a cheese wheel, which is so funny.
SI: Do you have big plans for that?
AL: Yes, we will make a cheese discovery with my family when I return. I’m not coming back until August 31, so we’ll wait a bit, but I hope we have a nice sausage board.