Four hurt at final running of the bulls (gallery)

PAMPLONA, Spain — Four thrill-seekers were treated for cuts and bruises but no one was gored as thousands of runners packed the streets of Pamplona for the San Fermin festival Saturday, eager to share in the adrenaline-fueled experience of this year’s final running of the bulls.

Doctor Ignacio Iribarren, a spokesman for Pamplona’s Navarra hospital, said only four runners had been admitted for treatment — two with head concussions, and two with arm and leg injuries.

Television images broadcast nationally showed runners being brushed aside and knocked over by bulls, their horns missing them by inches as they thundered down the city’s narrow cobble-stone streets.

A Navarre government statement said three of those injured were Spaniards, and a fourth — suffering concussion — was a 28-year-old Irish national.

One runner had a lucky escape when he sprung to his feet — having been knocked down by the leading bull — only to find himself just in front of the following pack. Experienced runners, who are known as “los divinos” — the divine ones — for their ability to survive such close brushes with death, generally agree that standing in front of charging bulls is something that should never be done.

In 1995, a 22-year-old American, Matthew Tassio, fell, and rather than remaining curled up on the ground while the pack passed over, stood up and faced the animals. A bull’s horn struck him in the chest, killing him.

Once the bulls reached the bullring Saturday, a daredevil rushed from the crowd to meet one of them as it headed to internal stables, only for him to be knocked over and head-butted by the bull as the watching crowd shrieked in horror. A cape-waving attendant swiftly intervened, saving him from further tragedy by distracting the bull’s attention and leading it away.

Iribarren said this year’s San Fermin festival had been one of the safest he’d experienced, adding that only six people remained in hospital, including those admitted Saturday. Two were British men aged 20 and 29 years old, who had been gored Monday, but were “evolving favorably” and would soon be released, he said.

The run, which featured large bulls of the Torrehandilla ranch, took just two minutes and 33 seconds to cover the 928-yard course from the holding stables just outside the city walls to a central bullring. Longer runs can take well over three minutes.

The festival held annually to honor this northern city’s patron saint dates back to the late 16th century and has evolved into a nine-day celebration interspersed with all-night alcohol-fueled reveries which attract tens of thousands of foreigners, mostly from the United States, Britain and Australia.

It was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises” (“Fiesta” in the United Kingdom).

The bulls used in the centuries-old fiesta can weigh 1,100-pounds and have killed 15 people since record-keeping began in 1924.

The most recent death was 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 since the 1995 death of the American.

The runs take place daily until July 14 and are broadcast on state television.

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