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Parkour eyed for 2024 Olympics by gymnastics officials amid complaints

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PARIS (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 and of manhood when Belle and his friends were dangling each other off the 55-foot-tall Dame du Lac, with its view over Paris’ southern outskirts.

“It was a form of courage. A bit crazy, too. You really had to trust the person who held you,” the 41-year-old recalls. “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, with imagination and training, 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. They regard urban furniture — stairwells, walls, fences, pillars, tables, benches, trees, bridges, etc. — not as obstacles but as opportunities, free apparatus with which to have fun.

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. Calling themselves “the Yamakasi” and the sport they were inventing “the art of movement,” they pieced together their new moves on, around and over the street furniture of Paris’ suburban concrete jungles.

“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 says. “We’d do the same exercise 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 times.”

“We obsessed about repetition, numbers, trying to figure out if something was useful,” he adds. “We were so hooked on this thing, on this search for ourselves.”

Others became hooked, too.

A child of the internet age, parkour spread virally and globally 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 and followers.

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

Using its financial muscle and clout within the Olympic movement, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) is steadily bringing — critics say forcing — parkour under its wing. This month, a FIG Congress officially 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 in Paris.

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

“This is the equivalent of a hostile takeover,” says Eugene Minogue, chief executive of Parkour Earth, the grouping formed in 2017 from six national associations that is one of FIG’s most vocal critics but is struggling to defend itself against the 137-year-old gymnastics federation that has the ear of Olympic leaders and the sports establishment.

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

Minogue suspects FIG of wanting to get its hands on parkour’s young and growing fan base, to stay relevant with Olympic leaders who want action sports that appeal to 21st century audiences and sponsors. Other long-established sports have done likewise: Cycling, for example, absorbed BMX in the 1990s, and skiing became the international federation for snowboarding.

“They want to codify it, they want to monetize it,” Minogue says of FIG. “It’s about money, about influence, about power, about control. It’s about having a seat at the table.”

Another concern is that FIG-organized competitions could denature parkour’s “let’s play” philosophy and endanger parkour athletes by encouraging them to try overly dangerous, crowd- and judge-pleasing tricks.

“The one thing I hope is that gymnastics does not condone risk-taking and that it doesn’t glorify an elite. Because we’ve been fighting for 20 years against young people chasing clicks, filming themselves doing acrobatics and taking risks with the aim of becoming famous and finding a sponsor,” says Sacha Lemaire, president of the France-based Federation de Parkour.

“We’re afraid that glorifying competition will feed this phenomenon and that we’ll bear the brunt for that.”

FIG insists that parkour and gymnastics are far more of a natural fit than its critics acknowledge. As an example of how the sports can coexist, it points to Sweden, where parkour joined the gym federation in 2014 and where traceurs/traceuses often train in gymnastic facilities to avoid the Nordic weather.

In response to emailed questions from The Associated Press, FIG’s secretary general, Andre Gueisbuhler, said its competitions would not reward risk, would not be “about jumping furthest and highest” and would help make parkour safer.

FIG “offers an infrastructure which has all necessary means to develop the sport worldwide within a short time,” Gueisbuhler wrote.

Belle, who teaches what he still calls the art of movement, says he struggles to see convincing parallels between the activity dreamed up by the Yamakasi in their youth and what he regards as the codified, rigid world of gymnastics.

“Parkour has become a merchandise now,” he said. “At the beginning, it was free.”

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MORE: Olympic medalist no longer on USA Gymnastics suspended list

Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

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Nathan Chen is now the first U.S. man to win back-to-back World titles since Scott Hamilton did so four times, from 1981-1984. He defeated two-time world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan in their first head-to-head competition since the PyeongChang Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Performing to “Land of All” by Woodkid, Chen landed four quadruple jumps and scored 216.02 points in the free skate, a new highest score in the world this season. His free skate, 323.02 points, was also the highest score in the world this season. The Yale University freshman extended his 10.59-point lead from the short program to 22.05 points to claim his second consecutive World gold medal. He heads back to class next week, after spending his spring break at this competition.

“It’s breathtaking to be in this arena. Thank you so much for being loud and carrying me through my program,” Chen told the Saitama crowd.

“I’m glad I was able to put out two strong skates both here and last year and I hope to be able to compete against Yuzuru further in the future,” Chen continued later in the press conference. “Every time Yuzu skates, he does something amazing and incredible and it’s just a huge honor to be able to skate with him, skate after him, especially knowing that how he sets the bar. It’s great to be able to follow that.”

Skating after Hanyu wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for Chen, he told reporters in a press conference following Thursday’s short program.

“It’s not my first time skating after him,” he said. “The raining of the Pooh bears is actually a pretty amazing sight to see. Knowing that fact, it’s something that I can prepare myself for — it’s not even something I have to prepare myself for. It’s an amazing thing. It’s amazing to see the fans love us, care for us and do all this to hypothetically make us happy. That’s such a great feeling.”

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu told reporters he was 100 percent, recovering from a lingering ankle injury, and he proved it. Skating at home, at the site of his first of two world titles, he was third after the short program but rallied to score 206.10 points in the free skate and 300.97 points overall. His Origin (“Art on Ice”) by Edvin Marton free skate earned him the silver medal. Afterward, his fans covered the ice with stuffed Pooh bears, as has become tradition for whenever Hanyu takes the ice.

“I was thinking about Plushenko when skating this program, because I am somehow lending it from him, and I feel that I have done what I could in this free program,” Hanyu said, referencing four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia. “But I lost, that is about it. To tell the truth, it is like death to me. I really want to win.

“When I was going through my rehabilitation, I watched the American Nationals where Nathan Chen was performing,” Hanyu continued. “I am a really competitive person, and I want to compete with a strong opponent. I respect Nathan in this sense. Now I will have enough time until the next season, and I will try not to get injured and do my best to get stronger.”

Vincent Zhou performed to the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack, skating first in the final flight of skaters. He was called for two under-rotations — on his quad toe and the triple flip in his triple Lutz, Euler, triple flip combination — to score a season’s best free skate (186.99) and a season’s best total score (281.16). Zhou had his best-ever World Championships finish, claiming the bronze medal.

“I had a good Nationals and Four Continents and used the momentum to build and build, and finally, I was able to put out two great performances in the same competition, here at Worlds,” Zhou said. “I really couldn’t be happier to do what I did here.”

The last time the U.S. put two men on a World Championship podium was 1996, when Todd Eldredge won gold and Rudy Galindo claimed the bronze in Edmonton, Canada.

The third U.S. man in the field, Jason Brown, fell from second after the short program to ninth overall with a 157.34 point free skate and a total overall score of 254.15 points. He skated to a Simon & Garfunkel medley.

For Brown, skating last and closing out the competition was a little less familiar from a logistics standpoint, he said in the post-short program press conference. Once he found out the draw, he texted coaches Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson to figure out how it would work — as he shares those coaches with Hanyu.

“I feel great, it is not the performance that I had wanted, but I am so proud of the fight that I put out there, the growth that I made this year,” Brown said. “Also I am so proud at my teammates. It feels amazing to perform here, I love the Japanese crowd, I love the feeling of performing out on that ice, especially in Japan.”

Full results are here.

Shoma Uno, January’s Four Continents gold medalist, likely buckled under the immense pressure of a home World Championships. He stepped out of both of his first two quad jumps in his program, both of which were called under-rotated. He managed 178.92 points in his Moonlight Sonata free skate for a total overall score of 270.32 points. His medal streak (silver 2017-18) snapped in Saitama and he finished in fourth place.

“I really admire Yuzuru Hanyu who always seeks for high scores and good results, which made me realize I am still immature,” Uno said. “Overall I am still disappointed in myself. I need to become mentally much stronger. I want to skate better next year so that when I look back this World in the future, this would be a good lesson for my skating career.”

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair titleAlina Zagitova wins first world title | Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

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France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron captured their fourth World Championship ice dance title on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Skating to selections from Rachael Yamagata, Papadakis and Cizeron scored a season’s best 134.23 points in the free skate for a total score of 222.65 points. They extended their short program lead over the field to 10.89 points. They now join six other ice dance teams in winning four World Championship titles; no team has one five, but one team has won six titles.

The last time the World Championships were held in Saitama, in 2014, Papadakis and Cizeron made their event debut and finished 13th. In the years to come, they went on to win three more titles: 2015, 2016, and 2018.

“We were exactly here five years ago for the World Championships in Saitama,” Papadakis recalled. “It’s funny to remember the whole experience we gained from those five years and where we were at that time, and where we are now. It’s incredible. We are just very, very proud of us.”

Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored a season’s best 127.82 in their free dance for a total score of 211.76. They won their first World Championship medal, a silver, marking Russia’s first world ice dance medal since 2013. Their teammates, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finished fourth with 208.52 points.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 127.31 in their “Romeo and Juliet” free dance which included all Level 4 elements. They notched a total score of 210.40 and the bronze medal. They won their first World medal, a silver, in 2018.

“We feel like we put our strongest performance this season here at Worlds, and that was our goal,” Hubbell said. “Our goal was to do our best performance and the rest we can’t control, that was really what we have achieved. Next season we would love to be competing for the top of the podium. We think that Team USA is incredibly strong in ice dance, so it keeps us on our toes. We would love to be the number one team heading into the Beijing Games [in 2022], and going to bring the gold home for Team USA — that is really the plan.”

Full results are here.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated a tribute to their late friend and two-time world medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

Their free skate earned 122.78 points and all of their elements were called Level 4, except for Weaver’s twizzles, which earned a Level 2. They scored a total of 205.62 points and finished in fifth place. Notably, Weaver and Poje have been inside the Worlds top five for the past nine years, including a silver in 2014 and two bronzes (2015, 2018).

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating earlier this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates moved to Montreal for a new start this season and spent nearly 10 months away from competition before returning in January. The Four Continents gold medalists earned Level 3 on their one-foot step sequence and Level 4s on the rest of their elements in Saitama for a free skate score of 122.60 and an overall score of 204.92 points. They finished in sixth place.

“It feels so good that our best performance of the season happened here, on the World Championships,” Chock said afterwards. “Now we are going to go on with our next season, but firstly enjoy our vacation.”

“I think it is our favorite free dance that we have ever had, and it is really our tempo, especially the last piece of music. It is very audience-friendly,” Bates added, confirming it’s the last time they will compete the Elvis medley.

In what has been a personal storytelling vehicle for them this season, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker‘s free dance to The Irrespressibles earned 113.16 points for an overall score of 189.06. Their ninth place at the World Championships caps their best season ever. At last year’s Worlds, they finished 10th and then moved to Montreal for a new training environment.

“It was a really great Worlds experience for us,” Hawayek told media. “It’s always such a pleasure to be in Japan and just continue to put out memorable performances for everyone and I think we set out with a goal of doing just that, and we are very happy to feel like we did that. We feel like we put out two solid and emotionally connected, memorable performances.”

World ice dance champions title leader board:

6 titles: Lyudmila Pakhomova/ Alexandr Gorshkov (Soviet Union; 1970-74, 1976)

4 titles: Jean Westwood/ Lawrence Demmy (Great Britain, 1952-56); Eva Romanova/ Pavel Roman (Czech Republic, 1962-65); Diane Towler/ Bernard Ford (Great Britain, 1966-69); Jayne Torvill/ Christopher Dean (Great Britain, 1981-84); Natalia Bestemianova/ Andrei Bukin (Soviet Union, 1985-88); Oksana Grishuk/ Yevgeni Platov (Russia, 1994-97); Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron (France, 2015-16, 2018-19)

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title | Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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