'Running of the Bulls' Begins in Pamplona

AFP: Hundreds of runners fled half-tone bulls thundering through Pamplona's streets Thursday in the first bull-run of Spain's San Fermin fiesta, resulting in four injuries. Six huge fighting bulls and six steers charged through the narrow, winding streets of the northern Spanish town, clearing a path through a sea of runners mostly dressed in white, with red handkerchiefs.

Some dared to run just an arm's length before the bulls, glancing nervously behind at the running beasts' dangerous curved horns, on the first run of the alcohol-laced festival, which runs to July 14. Others chased behind the pack, occasionally touching the bulls' sides on the inaugural run, watched by millions on television.

Many cowered on the sidelines or peered down from balconies. Bulls and runners stampeded through an 848.6-metre course from a holding pen to the city's bull ring in 2 minutes, 30 seconds, a spokesman for the festival organisers said. The run was "fast and clean," the spokesman said.

Four runners -- three Spaniards and a Panamanian -- suffered light injuries and were taken to hospital, he said. “I've never actually felt something like that ever before in my life," said 28-year-old Briton Jonathan Fieldhouse, his hands still shaking after the chase. “One brushed past me then all the rest came past."

His 20-year-old brother Ben, a barman in the English city of Hull, vowed to return for next year's run. "The adrenaline pumps into you. It's unreal," he said. The two brothers said they had not overindulged in alcohol, a factor that is closely policed in Pamplona to minimize serious injuries among tourists who down copious amounts of sangria, cheap wine and beer.

"It is a very dangerous activity, you have to have a cool head," said 48-year-old Miguel Leza, who ran with the bulls for his 32nd year in a row. "You are up against a bull, a heavy animal, which can kill," he said.

Leza said the thrill drew him back to Pamplona every year. "I like to be right close to the bulls. I feel the adrenaline, the fear too," he said.

The city of some 200,000 residents expects at least as many festival-goers as last year when 1.5 million people turned out and hotels reported a 95-percent occupancy rate. The bull run can attract 2,000 to 3,500 runners trying to get as close as possible without being trampled or gored in an event popularised worldwide by Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.

And every year between 200 and 300 participants in the run are injured. Most are hurt after falling but some are trampled or gored by the bulls despite increased safety measures. The most recent death occurred two years ago when a bull gored a 27-year-old Spaniard to death, piercing his neck, heart and lungs with its horns in front of hordes of tourists.

In the evenings after the daily chase, the beasts are killed in the bull ring and their meat is served up in city restaurants. This year organizers have launched a free iPhone app in English to help revellers to assess their chances of emerging from the runs intact. It asks users about their behavior at the festival, including how much they have had to drink and how many hours of sleep they have had.


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