PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) — The first bull run in three years at the San Fermín festival in the Spanish city of Pamplona took place early Thursday. No one was gored, but several runners endured knocks and hard falls as tens of thousands partygoers reveled in the return of one of Europe's most famous traditional events.
The six bulls, guided by six tame oxen, charged through Pamplona’s streets in around 2 minutes, 35 seconds without provoking too much carnage among the thousands of people cramming the course. Several runners were stomped, trampled or shoved to the cobblestone pavement. At least two men were smacked in the head by the broadside of a horn, but none suffered a skewering.
The Pamplona hospital said that six people needed to be brought in for treatment. Those included a 30-year-old American man who fractured the radius and ulna of his left arm and one 16-year-old Spanish boy who lost a part of a finger in the bullring, where a pile-up of runners occurred just in its entry point. The other four injured were Spanish men between 19 and 45 years old.
This was the first of eight early morning bull runs that are followed by massive drinking, eating and attending cultural events for the rest of the day.
Eight people were gored during the last festival in 2019 before the pandemic. Sixteen people have died in the bull runs since 1910. The last death occurred in 2009.
The bulls that run each morning are killed in bullfights in the afternoon by professional bullfighters. Animal rights activists have campaigned against the slaughter of the animals, but the bullfight is still popular among segments of Spanish society and an integral part of the San Fermín festival.
The incredibly popular festivities that draw tens of thousands of visitors from around the world were canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
Spain’s strong vaccination program has allowed life to return to more or less normal, but a recent uptick in cases has led Pamplona authorities to recommend using face masks when necessary. That said, masks were a very rare sight in the throngs of people packing the city’s square for the official kickoff of the party on Wednesday or during the first bull run.
Thousands of men, and some women, participate in the “encierros,” or bull runs, trying to avoid the massive bulls and oxen that thunder along the narrow, twisting cobblestone streets of Pamplona’s old quarter. The course of 875 meters (956 yards) is sprayed with a substance to help prevent the bulls from slipping on the tight corners. The run usually is over within three heart-stopping minutes.
Expert bull runners, mostly locals, try to sprint at full steam just in the front of the bull horns before peeling off at the last second. The inexperienced, a group that includes most foreigners, do well enough to scramble out of the way, often ending up in piles of fellow runners.
Almost everyone in Pamplona this week wears the traditional white shirt and pants with red sash and neckerchief for the festival.