Parkour May Run, Flip, Dive And Slide Its Way Into Olympics

Parkour May Run, Flip, Dive And Slide Its Way Into Olympics

9:00am Sep 12, 2014
A Libyan youth displays his skills in parkour, an extreme sport, during a friendly competition in Tripoli on March 7, 2014.
A Libyan youth displays his skills in parkour, an extreme sport, during a friendly competition in Tripoli on March 7, 2014.
Mahmud Turkia / AFP/Getty Images

Parkour looks like skateboarding, without the skateboards. It is a city sport where people run, flip and slide through parks and over buildings — all with just their hands and feet.

A few weeks ago, parkour leaders met with the International Olympic Committee, which led to speculation that parkour could one day end up in the Olympics.

Dan Edwardes, the founder and director of Parkour Generation, a professional parkour organization based in London, said the meeting went well, like a good first date. Perhaps the first of many.

"It does take a few dates to begin to see and understand the other side, see what they want, and how they can make it happen," he says.

Edwardes says he's open to seeing parkour in the Olympics one day. The IOC wouldn't comment on the specifics of the meeting, but said in a statement that the meeting "was an informative and positive discussion."

But not everyone in the parkour community is feeling good about the prospect of major competition.

Jesse Danger, who runs a parkour group called The Movement Creative, says he teaches parkour not as a sport, but as a way of life. It is less like football, and more like yoga. Danger and his colleague, Jereme Sanders, also teach a youth parkour camp in Manhattan.

Sanders adds that the goal of parkour is to compete against yourself.

"Me, I'm a short guy, 5 foot 6," Sanders said. "If there was someone technically as apt as me, but they happen to be 6 foot 3, they're gonna get up a higher wall. And if I gauge my worth on being able to get up the highest wall, I'm never gonna feel like I'm good for anything."

There are websites devoted to talking about why competition is bad for parkour. Most of the parkour competitions that have been held have flopped.

The coaches say it would be difficult to judge the sport because athletes typically judge themselves.

"If you feel good about what you did, then you got a 10, out of 10," Danger explains. "And if you think you can do a little better than maybe you got a 9 or an 8 or a 7."

But Edwardes says there's room in parkour for two worlds — competitive and non-competitive — just like in any other sport.

"There are tens of millions of people who run, who don't do it competitively. So running as discipline isn't necessarily competitive, but it does have a competitive element to it," Edwardes explains.

If parkour does move into competition, it might follow the lead of snowboarding.

The IOC recruited snowboarding in order to get more young people to watch the Winter Games, said David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians.

He says there's usually a pretty long process to get a sport in the Games because a sport has to be recognized before it can apply.

"There has to be a regular world championship. There have to be regular regional championships, and there have to be X number of national federations," Wallechinsky says.

Sometimes the process, which can take decades, is shortened. It was for snowboarding, which came into the Olympics in 1998 under the Olympic Ski Federation instead of having to wait and establish its own fully formed infrastructure.

Wallechinsky thinks the same thing could happen for parkour. It could come in under a sport like the modern pentathlon.

Since the meeting with IOC officials, leaders in parkour and free-running, a similar sport, officially formed a federation, one of the first steps in moving towards Olympic competition.

Some of the kids at the parkour camp in Manhattan were fine with the idea of competition, like 11-year-old Paul Kratsios.

"It makes sense. It's not hard. You just set up a course, you can do it, like whoever does the fastest," he says.

Kratsios said he'd even compete one day, if he got good enough.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to a lesser-known sport, parkour. It involves people running, jumping and sliding on streets, off of buildings and through parks. Recently, some leaders in the parkour world met with the international Olympic Committee, which led to speculation that parkour could one day end up in the Olympics. NPR's Sam Sanders has the story.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Parkour looks like skateboarding without the skateboards. Jumps and flips and slides over benches and fountains and buildings, even running up walls, all with just your hands and feet. A few weeks ago, the International Olympic Committee, or the IOC, organized a meeting with leaders of parkour groups across the world.

DAN EDWARDS: They came to us.

S. SANDERS: Dan Edwards was there. He's the founder and director of Parkour Generations, a professional parkour group based in London. Edwards says, the meeting went well, like a good first date - perhaps the first of many.

EDWARDS: It does take a few dates to begin to understand the other side and to begin to see what they really want and how they can make it happen.

S. SANDERS: Edwards says, he's open to seeing parkour in the Olympics someday. And the IOC wouldn't comment on specifics, but did say in a statement that the meeting was an informative and positive discussion. But not everyone in the parkour community is feeling good about the prospect of major competition.

JESSE DANGER: Back in the middle. Everybody to the middle.

S. SANDERS: Jesse Danger runs a parkour group called the Movement Creative. He's leading a youth parkour camp in Manhattan, right on the banks of the Hudson River.

DANGER: On your second time through, what I want to see is rotation. I want to see you going sideways. I want to see you going backwards.

S. SANDERS: Danger is teaching this class not as a sport, but as a way of life - less football and more yoga. His colleague Jereme Sanders says, the goal parkour is to compete against yourself.

JEREME SANDERS: Me - I'm a short guy - five-foot-six. If there was someone that was technically as apt as me, but they happen to be six-foot-three, they are going to get up a higher wall. And if I gauge my worth on being able to get up the highest wall, I'm never going to feel like I'm good for anything.

S. SANDERS: There are websites devoted to talking about why competition is bad for parkour. And most of the parkour competitions that have been held have flopped. I asked the coaches to show me how they would judge parkour if they had to. They taught me a hip roll.

DANGER: Yeah. So sit down on one hip. Kick your leg up and over.

S. SANDERS: Kick me legs. OK.

DANGER: And then you're going to stand back up.

S. SANDERS: OK.

And then I asked Danger for a score - zero to 10.

DANGER: And if you feel about what you did, then you got a 10 out of 10. And if you think you can do a little better, then maybe you got a nine or an eight or a seven.

S. SANDERS: All right. I'll take a 10.

DANGER: Cool.

S. SANDERS: Not exactly Olympic judging, but Dan Edwards, who was one of those parkour leaders at that IOC meeting - he says, there's room in parkour for two worlds - competitive and noncompetitive - just like in another sport.

EDWARDS: There are millions and millions - tens of millions - hundreds of millions of people in the world who run who don't do it competitively, right? So running as a discipline isn't necessarily competitive, but it does have a competitive element to it.

S. SANDERS: If parkour does move more into competition, it could follow the lead of snowboarding. David Wallenchinsky is the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. He says, the IOC recruited snowboarding in part to get young people watching the winter games. Wallenchinsky says, there's usually a pretty long process to get a sport into the games. A sport has to become recognized and then apply.

DAVID WALLENCHINSKY: There has to be a regular world championship. There have to be regular regional championships. And there have to be X number of national federations.

S. SANDERS: Wallenchinksy says, sometimes that process, which can take decades, is shortened. It was for snowboarding. That sport came into the Olympics in 1998 under the Olympics Ski Federation, instead of having to wait and establish its own infrastructure. Wallenchinsky thinks the same thing could happen for parkour. It could come in under a sport like...

WALLENCHINSKY: ...The modern pentathlon.

S. SANDERS: Yes, modern pentathlon is actually an Olympic sport. Already, since that meeting with IOC officials, leaders in parkour and free running, a similar sport, officially formed the Federation - one of the first steps in moving towards Olympic competition. Back at that parkour camp in Manhattan, some of the kids there were fine with the idea of competition, like 11-year-old Paul Kratsios.

PAUL KRATSIOS: It makes sense. I mean, it's not that hard. Like, you just set up a course. If you can do it - like, whoever does the fastest.

S. SANDERS: Would you ever watch a parkour competition?

KRATSIOS: Yeah, for sure.

S. SANDERS: Kratsios said he'd even compete one day if he got good enough. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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