PAMPLONA, Spain – One elderly thrill-seeker was gored in a leg and five others slightly injured as thousands of adrenaline-fueled runners raced ahead of six fighting bulls in the streets of the northern Spanish city of Pamplona in the first running of the bulls of this year's San Fermin festival, officials said Saturday.
Runners, in traditional white clothing and red kerchiefs around their necks, tripped over each other or fell in the mad daredevil annual rush along early morning dew-moistened slippery streets to the city's bull ring.
One youth got the top of his shirt and kerchief caught on a bull's horn, inches from his face, and was dragged several yards (meters) along the ground, but was seen to get up and run away.
The gored runner, a 73-year-old Pamplona resident, was taken to a local hospital and five others were treated for cuts and bruises, the regional government of the province of Navarre said in a statement.
Among those who received medical attention were a 21-year-old Japanese person from the city of Ikeda and a 26-year-old Australian national, the statement said.
The San Fermin running of the bulls festival became world famous with the publication of Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises." It is also known around the world for its wild all-night street parties which commemorate the city's patron saint.
On Saturday, the massive bulls belonging to the Dolores Aguirre breeding ranch raced from a holding pen on the outskirts of town, where they spent the night before the run, along a 849-meter (928-yard) course to the ring in 2 minutes, 53 seconds, a relatively slow time. Last year's opening run was completed 23 seconds faster.
The last bull in the pack became disoriented and charged into the ring several seconds after the leaders. Once in the bullring it caused panic as it chased several runners around before being coaxed into the safety of stables by cape waving attendants.
"Running with the bulls was the best experience I've had, so much adrenaline," said Mark Martinez, 27, a student from Los Angeles, California, who said he was in Spain on a 10-day vacation. "I couldn't touch the horns, I might try that tomorrow," he said.
Serious runners, referred to by the cognoscenti of the fiesta as "los divinos" — the divine ones — because of their ability to survive close brushes with death, would never attempt to touch the animals.
The ornery beasts used in this centuries-old fiesta can weigh some 500-plus kilogram (1,100-pounds) and have killed 15 people since record keeping began in 1924.
The most recent such tragedy came in 2009 when a young Spaniard was gored in the neck as he tried to escape a bull by sliding feet-first under a fence separating the course from the crowd watching the run. It was the first death at San Fermin in nearly 15 years.
"Spain is different to anything I've experienced before," said Michael Arraztoa, 25, from Bakersfield, California. He said his dad was from originally from Irurita, not far from Pamplona, and that he too was over on summer vacation.
The 8 a.m. runs take place daily until July 14 with each charge broadcast on state television. And then, on the afternoon of each day, the same bulls face matadors in the ring.
Heckle reported from Madrid.