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Free-running treats the urban landscape as an adult playground. It treats man-made structures as an obstacle course that participants negotiate by daring feats of graceful gymnastics. It was invented by a group of childhood friends in Lisses, near Paris — as in so many suburban towns, there was little for young people to do, so Sebastien Foucan, David Belle and others created what they call le parkour (a deliberately un-French spelling to make the point that they were doing something different).

Anybody in Britain who has been watching BBC1 in recent months will have seen this most recent example of an extreme sport in action; David Belle was filmed for a promotional trailer in which he rushed home across London’s rooftops to catch his favourite TV programme. More recently, a trio of free-runners were seen in a programme called Jump London on Channel 4.

The sport grew out of attempts to imitate ninja feats. Unlike other extreme activities, it has developed a philosophy. “It is not just a game,” Sebastien Foucan is quoted as saying, “it is a discipline because it is a way of facing our fears and demons that you can apply to the rest of your life.”

Free-running is essentially cat-burglary without the larceny — and with a hefty addition of Gallic philosophising.

Independent, 10 Sep. 2003

A new urban sport which emerged from the southern suburbs of Paris, free-running uses gymnastic skills to find alarming new ways of navigating the urban landscape. It is the free-runners’ fondness for catapulting themselves at dangerous heights over anxiety-inducing distances that has brought them notoriety — initially within the confines of their mayor’s office, but more recently on an international level.

Guardian, 21 Aug. 2003

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Page created 04 Oct 2003