Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll women’s champion basks in glory of win
cooper’s hill cheese roll women’s champion basks in glory of

Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll women’s champion basks in glory of win

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll is quintessentially British, delightfully silly and only somewhat dangerous. It is exactly what it sounds like—which is to say, a race where a wheel of cheese is rolled down a steep hill and hundreds of people follow. Dating back centuries in Gloucestershire, it bills itself as an extreme sport, and if you watch even just a few seconds, it’s hard to argue: What is more extreme than flinging yourself down a hill in pursuit of cheese? And what is more of a sport than a race?

After a pandemic hiatus, the cheese roll was held for the first time in two years on Sunday. But this year’s women’s champ hadn’t just waited a long time for it—she’d also traveled a long way.

Women’s cheese-roll champ Abby Lampe, 21, is a North Carolina native and recent graduate of NC State University. This was her first time in Gloucestershire. She came just for the cheese.

“Where are you from?” her postrace interview begins. “I’m from North Carolina,” responds a happy, dirt-streaked Lampe. “And what brings you here?” asks the surprised interviewer. Lampe grins, exhilarated, clutching her prize. “The cheese race!

After Lampe’s college plans to study abroad were disrupted by the pandemic, she’s now traveling around Europe through August, and naturally, she had to include a cheese-roll-specific trip to Gloucestershire. She spoke with Sports Illustrated about her preparation, her victory and her plans for the cheese.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Abby Lampe, 21, holds up the cheese after winning the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll on Sunday in Gloucestershire, England.

Lampe holds up a wheel of cheese after winning the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll on Sunday in Gloucestershire, England.

Sports Illustrated: How did you first learn about the cheese roll?

Abby Lampe: It was definitely from social media. It had been a few years that I knew about it, from YouTube compilations and whatnot. But this year, it got brought up again, and I told my friends—I was going to do it.

SI: What made you say, O.K., it’s not enough just to watch this, I have to participate, I have to be a cheese roller myself?

AL: It’s a funny thing. I love doing competitions, especially ones that are obscure—I’ve done 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 this 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 it at all? Or did you just figure that you’d get out there and roll with it?

AL: Oh, I 100% prepared for it. 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 anything like this. So before I left the U.S., I rolled down a hill—I went to Dorothea Dix Park, which is a local park by Raleigh, and I rolled down some hills trying to figure out the best way to roll down a hill. And I thought it was fun and all, but like, in comparison to Cooper’s Hill, it was lightweight. There was no comparison. So I actually watched hours of film in the week leading up to the cheese race. Because I wanted to understand their strategies and where they started from and how they rolled. 

Then after that, on Friday, I went to Gloucestershire, went to Cooper’s Hill and did a test run. I didn’t know what to expect at all. But that is not what I expected. It was so much deeper in person than it looks in videos or photos. So I did that, and one of my friends was with me, and I slid around halfway down the hill and then stumbled and tumbled the rest of the way. I didn’t even go full speed—I didn’t want to, because I would have run into the metal casings that they enclosed the hill with, and there were no rugby players there to stop me. Because at the competition, they have rugby players to stop everyone.

SI: What did you learn? Or, I guess, what was the difference from rolling your first time at Dorothea Dix Park to watching film to doing that last practice run?

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AL: So in a lot of the film, they stood on their feet for a while. I actually watched a lot of Flo Early’s videos—she’s the reigning champion for the women’s race, she’s won four times and I actually got to meet her on Sunday, which was incredible. She presented me the cheese. So that was amazing. But I just learned that a lot of it, you can’t really control. From Friday to Sunday, I was like, Oh, can it be better? Can I get better? But it wasn’t that I was better; I just rolled a lot more on Sunday.

SI: It looks in the replay like you separate yourself from the pack pretty early before it gets tight later on. Was there a point midway through when you realized, Hey, I can win this?

AL: I had no idea what place I was in. I was just hoping to get down the hill. I realized I was rolling diagonally at one point, but I didn’t know how far, or like, I had no perception of where I was in terms of the hill and how close I was to the finish line. I had no idea there was someone so close to me. I was just trying my hardest.

SI: Are you covered in bruises right now?

AL: Actually, no. I have a few bruises on my left leg, and then I have a couple of scratches, very minor scratches on my face, because I kind of ate it there a few times. There was definitely dirt in my teeth. But, no, I’m not worse for the wear, honestly. It’s really shocking.

Abby Lampe, 21, loves the sweet taste of victory, especially when it comes with delicious cheese.

Lampe loves the sweet taste of victory, especially when it comes with delicious cheese.

SI: Right—there were actual injuries, it sounded like, and you as the winner emerged unscathed!

AL: Yeah, one of the guys almost broke his leg, I think. On Friday, in my test run, I’m prone to ankle injuries—growing up, I did sports, and I sprained my ankle a lot. So on Friday, I kind of tweaked my ankle a little bit, and I was worried that it was going to end up as a break or a sprain in Sunday’s race. I prematurely actually got my friend to bring me an ankle brace—I ordered one from Amazon, and she’s going to visit me in a few days, so I told her to bring it. But now I don’t need it anymore. So maybe she can return it.

Editors’ note: Past injuries from cheese rollers have included bruised kidneys, concussions and broken ankles.

SI: Did anything surprise you about the experience?

AL: Oh my goodness, yes, so many things. The hill, for one thing, that was enormous. It overlooked the entire town of Brockworth, in Gloucestershire, which was amazing. And you could see on top of the hill. People were coming on the hillside to go watch the race, which was so interesting. There was just an absurd amount of crowd, and the atmosphere was amazing. They were chanting and shouting, “Cheese, cheese cheese,” which was really funny. … And the people, I didn’t expect them to be so kind after I won. Parents were asking for pictures with their children, and it was just like I was the king of the hill for a few hours, it was crazy. I’ve never gotten so many people to ask for pictures of me before.

SI: How did people react to an American winning?

AL: There was no difference, really. There were some Americans in the crowd, and they were like, “We’re so proud of you; we can’t believe an American won.” … And people back in North Carolina, my friends and family, they’re going crazy. They’re so supportive and so prideful. I’m just happy to have won being from North Carolina and being from NC State.

SI: And you get to keep the cheese, right? [It’s a 9-pound wheel of Double Gloucester.]

AL: Oh, yeah. Today, I actually spent four hours trying to figure out how to ship it—I went to four different places. I think shipping the cheese was the hardest part of the whole ordeal. Like, going down the hill was 15 seconds. But shipping the cheese was definitely by far the harder experience.

SI: So it’s safely en route to North Carolina now?

AL: Yes, it is, or I hope so. I got the shipping confirmation notes—the guy who shipped it, I think he did it pretty well. He said he put it as a personal effect rather than a gift, so they won’t open it, and he put it as a cheese sample rather than a cheese wheel, which is just so funny.

SI: Do you have big plans for it?

AL: Yeah, we’re going to do a cheese unveiling with my family when I get back. I don’t get back until Aug. 31, so it’s going to be a little wait, but hopefully, we’re going to have a nice charcuterie board.

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