Sun, Dec 23, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Eyeing Olympics, gymnastics makes moves on parkour

AP, PARIS

Parkour cofounder Chau Belle trains in a park in Paris on Thursday.

Photo: AP

Their test of skill and courage was as dangerous as it was effective: Having clambered as stylishly as they could to the summit of a jagged, pyramid-shaped climbing wall in the suburbs of Paris, the young men would hang each other upside down by the feet from the top.

One slip and the four-story drop could have killed them.

Chau Belle flashes a grin at the memory of those heady days in the 1990s, when he and his gang of friends and cousins pushed each other and pushed the envelope of what has since mushroomed into a globalized street sport of urban acrobatics known as parkour.

The sport is talked about as a possible new Olympic discipline, but is also the focus of a heated custody battle as its popularity and marketing potential grow.

Parkour, derived from the French word for path or journey, was still just an exploration of self when Belle and his friends were dangling each other off the 17m-tall Dame du Lac.

“It was a form of courage. A bit crazy, too. You really had to trust the person who held you,” the 41-year-old said. “It was a test. A test of self-belief. Of one’s friends. Of family. Of ourselves, too.”

Parkour was built around the simple philosophy that almost any terrain can be turned into a playground for running, jumping, climbing and pushing oneself.

Male practitioners call themselves traceurs; women are traceuses. Both roughly translate as pathfinder.

A milestone in parkour’s growth was injecting the adrenaline jolt into Daniel Craig’s opening scenes as James Bond, with the actor haring through a construction site in Casino Royale in pursuit of a terrorist with Spiderman skills, played by Sebastien Foucan.

Foucan was one of the founding practitioners of parkour, along with Belle, his cousin David Belle and a half-dozen others. They called themselves “the Yamakasi” and the sport they were inventing “the art of movement.”

“People see only what’s in front of them, at their feet. We succeeded in telling ourselves to look upwards, to say: ‘There are things we can do with this,”’ Belle said. “We’d do the same exercise 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 times.”

Parkour spread in part because its practitioners’ derring-do videos of gravity-defying flips, jumps and other exploits work in any language and readily generate social media clicks.

However, the sport’s coming-of-age has also attracted a powerful suitor, one unwelcomed by many in parkour: gymnastics.

Using its financial muscle and clout within the Olympic movement, the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) is steadily bringing — critics say forcing — parkour under its wing.

This month, a FIG Congress recognized parkour as gymnastics’ newest discipline. FIG is now organizing introduction-to-parkour coaching courses, scheduling its first world championships for parkour in 2020 and intends to lobby the International Olympic Committee for parkour’s inclusion in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

All this despite a #WeAreNOTGymnastics protest by parkour lovers on social media and howls of complaint from parkour groups.

“This is the equivalent of a hostile takeover,” says Eugene Minogue, CEO of Parkour Earth, the grouping formed last year from six national associations that is one of FIG’s most vocal critics, but is struggling to defend itself against the 137-year-old federation.

“They are completely whitewashing our sport, its integrity, its history, its lineage, its authenticity,” Minogue said.

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