Daniel Caruana missed the flag as he wobbled his way up the St Julian’s ġostra this year but he captured more than he hoped for when pictures of his gravity-defying stunt hit the pages of major international news titles.

Mr Caruana, known as Il-Ganga, was awestruck when the photo taken by Times of Malta photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi was seen by millions across the world.

The pictures, taken last weekend, appeared on the largest international websites such those of Time Magazine, the Daily Mail and The Washington Post besides flashing across screens from Venezuela to Russia and Malaysia and everywhere in between.

What sold the picture was, most likely, the unique combination of Mr Caruana’s heavy set physique and the rather hazardous act of running up a greasy pole.

No sooner had the picture appeared on the Daily Mail website than comparisons began to Kung Fu Panda, a Dreamworks animated superhero character that revolves around an exceptionally-agile panda adept at the ancient Chinese martial art.

Mr Caruana said it crossed his mind to reply to the comments in this vein but, in the end, he did not bother and instead challenged them to beat him at the ġostra.

The 32-year-old oil rig worker has been climbing the lard-covered pole since he was five years old and takes part whenever he has the chance because of the nature of his work. He missed the past four years but, participating this year had its rewards even though he failed three times to get one of the coveted flags.

So what’s his strategy to reach the end of the pole? “Just keep going non-stop,” he says with a big smile.

The tradition dates back to the 1800s and forms an integral part of the feast of St Julian’s.

The 65-foot long wooden pole is placed at an angle covered in 15 litres of lard and four flags placed at the very end.

Members of the ġostra club run up the pole in 15-minute intervals to remove as much lard as possible before attempting the dash for a flag.

But not just anyone can take part. According to the entry requirements, one has to be a resident of St Julian’s and form part of a team of volunteers who help set up decorations for the village feast.

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