Free running

culture

I watched a fascinating programme a couple of days ago about the sport1 of free running. Like many people, I only became aware of free running when the BBC and Nike produced adverts featuring the sport. Free running (or le parkour) originated in a quiet suburb in France, when some bored kids developed a game they played to a very advanced level.

There are few rules; participants must always go forwards, never backwards, but their path can zig-zag around to take in interesting problems. Many of the moves are very dramatic, but drama isn't everything; a huge jump is pointless if it isn't executed elegantly. Nevertheless, some of the tricks and jumps are jaw-droppingly impressive. In one move on the programme, one of the parkouristes jumped across a gap with a wall adjacent to it, ran along that wall by twirling around touching his feet and hands to it, then landed on the other side of the gap. I watched this a couple of times (and in slow motion), but I still think he was laughing in the face of Newtonian physics.

The whole ethos of free running really appeals to me. You must feel like a cross between Spiderman and Superman when you pull something particularly brilliant off. But I suspect that I would be spectacularly bad at it; when I was forced to do athletics at school, I was hopeless at hurdling. I would pull up sharply in front of the first hurdle, like a horse refusing a fence. I was scared that I would catch my foot or something, and fall flat on my face. Pathetic, aren't I?

1 Practice? Discipline? Way of life? 'Sport' makes it sound too trivial, somehow.

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