Three injured in perilous run at San Fermin bull festival

Monday, July 8, 2002

PAMPLONA, Spain -- About 2,000 people joined in the world's most famous running of the bulls on Sunday, making a perilous dash through the narrow streets of Pamplona while being chased by charging bulls.

Three people, including a 19-year-old American girl and a 20-year-old Australian, were hospitalized after being gored during the early morning run through the narrow cobblestone streets of Pamplona's old quarter.

The unusually high number on the course slowed the run to some seven and a half minutes, more than twice the normal time, giving the bulls more time to be distracted and increasing the danger.

Jose Maria Perez, a 32-year-old Spaniard, was the most seriously hurt, with an injury in his thigh. Australian Luke Versace and an American identified as Lyndsey Saint of Overland Park, Kan., were both hit in their left knees at the end of the run.

Three others received treatment for cuts and bruises from falling.

Six bulls, which weight more than 1,000 pounds each, left the corral and began their 900 yard run at 8 a.m. The course ends in a bullring where the bulls were to face matadors in the afternoon.

As the bulls looked to attack anything that came within sight, the runners and the people overlooking the run from the balconies, screamed in panic as runners raced and scrambled to safety.

More than 1,000 people, mostly men wearing white pants and red kerchiefs, normally take part in the daily runs but this number shoots up on weekend days during the festival.

"I never run so fast in my life. It's really scary when you see the horns of the bulls nearly touching you," said 28-year-old Craig Barry from Port Lincoln, Australia, who had slept two hours in a park before the run after drinking all night with friends.

"People have told me it was not dangerous, but it is... At one stage I had the bull very close to me and at that moment I thought God will decide if I live or die," said a jubilant Bemin Jackson, a graphic artist from Puerto Rico.

"It's the biggest rush of your life."

The fiesta, famed for its all-night street parties, dates back hundreds of years but gained world fame from Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises."

Tens of thousands from all over the world have been pouring into Pamplona for the annual festival ever since.

An estimated 1 million people have packed the streets since Saturday to sing, dance and watch the running of the bulls this year, according to the city hall.

Overcrowding has made the runs extremely dangerous over the last years. Since record keeping began in 1924, 13 runners have been killed and more than 200 injured by the bulls. The last to die was an American, Matthew Tassio of Illinois, in 1995.

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