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Launch of running of bulls in Virginia: 'made in USA'

The United States is getting ready to host Saturday its first "San Fermin," an imitation of the Spanish "running of the bulls" that has fascinated North Americans for decades, at least since Ernest Hemingway immortalised it in his famous novel, The Sun Also Rises. In the state of Virginia there will be no "chupinazo," the loud bang that traditionally kicks off the festival in Pamplona, and the bulls will run in a special circuit instead of the narrow cobblestone streets of the northern Spanish city.

Above all, the runs will not end in a bullfight - although runners may be faced with animal rights protesters outside the track. However, the mysticism of the Spanish festival will be present in the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, according to Rob Dickens, the mastermind and organiser of The Great Bull Run, as the US event is to be called.

The Sanfermines are a "legendary event that everybody talks about and thinks about at some point in their life, but it's very difficult to actually go to Spain to do it," Dickens said. "A lot of people want to do it, but they just don't have the time, the opportunity, the money. So we are bringing it here to them," he said. The figures support his confidence in having found a niche, even though the US market for extreme sports is already quite crowded.

More than 5,000 people have already signed up for the premiere event. Without knowing exactly what the consequences may be in such a dangerous race - although Dickens is quick to highlight that "that's part of the event" - organisers have already scheduled 10 similar events in other states through to July 2015. At least 20,000 people have already registered. "We have over 60,000 fans in Facebook, which shows that people love this and are interested in it," Dickens said.

The one in Virginia is set to be the first formal run, now that some initial tests have been done. But it will help fine tune various details, and Dickens says he is confident that everything will go well. He even plans to take part in one of the runs himself. In case anything goes wrong, however, particularly given how easy it is to sue someone in the United States, all participants must be over 18 and sign a detailed form. The form says the runner accepts the event as a "hazardous activity" that presents serious physical and mental challenges to participants, and that he or she accepts potentially "catastrophic" risks.

"I do expect people to get hurt, that's part of the event. If it wasn't a dangerous event, nobody would want to do it. There's no famous event called 'walking down the sidewalk'," Dickens noted with a smirk. He stressed the safety measures: Medical staff and ambulances will be on hand along the track, and the runners will be split into separate groups to avoid dangerous crowding. The organiser noted the bulls have been carefully chosen, and will be quite different from those that run in Pamplona every July.

"We are going to be using fewer and normal bulls, also rodeo bulls, they are much bigger than Spanish fighting bulls but they are not as aggressive as the Spanish. And they are not going to have sharpened horns, which makes the risk much lower," Dickens said. It will take more, however, for him to appease animal rights activists, who are planning protests on site.

"This type of thing is a throwback to a time when we thought nothing of animals and we thought torturing them was acceptable," Ashley Byrne, a campaign specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), was quoted as saying in The Washington Post. Dickens was keen to calm down any concerns, saying the event would be nothing like its Spanish equivalent in terms of animal welfare.

"Bulls can't run on cobblestone like in Pamplona. They trip, they break their legs," he said. "We don't want that in the US. We want to have fun, we don't want the bulls to get injured for any reason." Wearing white will not be compulsory in the US version of San Fermin, but organisers do recommend the traditional outfit. Each runner will be given a red bandana. Participants are urged to dress comfortably and turn up with the will to have fun and to challenge themselves. "It's a challenge with yourself. Can you do this event? Can you get in the track with the bulls and conquer your fear? That's the goal," Dickens said.

Copyright Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2013


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