Freefrunning, the art of Jumping off buildings, sounds dangerous and often is. Just ask the competitor who landed headfirst at last night's World Freerun Championships
Call me macabre, but the thrill of watching people throw themselves off structures (for fun, not suicide), flipping and twisting as they go, is the possibility that they could actually do themselves some real harm.
The World Freerun championships at the Camden Roundhouse last night certainly delivered on the injury front. Within the first five minutes teeth had been shattered, blood shed and an ambulance called after the competitor representing Mexico misjudged his first jump and landed it from 12 ft up – on his chin.
The accident was sobering so early on in the proceedings. And, though it was secretly what everyone was hoping might happen, in a reassuring demonstration of human decency when it actually did the crowd was genuinely concerned. So the first ever world freerunning champions got of to a suitably gnarly start to the sound of 2,000 people simultaneously taking a sharp intake of breath - the universal language for “F*ck me that’ll hurt in the morning.”
As the runner lay crumpled on the floor, his fellow contestants scrambled down the indoor assault course to his aid, the rapping MC lost his thread and muttered something into the mic about ‘not trying this at home’ and the DJ who was barely into his set had no choice but to cut the drum and base beats sharpish.
The World Freerun championships at the Camden Roundhouse last night certainly delivered on the injury front
The event was designed for 23 competitors from 17 countries to showcase the art of freerunning – usually done using the built environment as a stage – where people leap and somersault about the place trying not to kill themselves. Apart from a brave few who climbed onto the roof of the Camden venue and looked like they could scuttle half way to Kings Cross in five seconds flat, the runners had to stay inside and use a specially constructed assault course to show off their tricks. You would have thought, under the circumstances, there would be a contingency for injury. Apparently not. With the medics all tied up attending to the Mexican now minus his teeth, the competition was halted.
The crowd began to get restless so the dreadlocked compare tried a bit of rapping to kill time. I believe the term is ‘freestyle’?! Personally I thought it was pretty impressive for an on the spot job, it rhymed and everything. But the audience was unimpressed and booing ensued. True, this was north London not downtown Detroit and half the audience had just hotfooted it up the Northern Line from the City and were in pinstripes and pencil skirts.
Basically it was an 8 Mile moment in front of the most middle class audience you could get without going to a Parish Council meeting and the respect just wasn’t there. What this sort of an audience were doing at a freeruning event in the first place is a slight mystery – though I suspect it’s for the same reason people go straight from the office on a Friday night to free house parties in Hackney – street chic. Let’s just hope this sport isn’t a victim of its own success – the last thing it needs is a celebrity bandwagon. Strictly Come Freerunning would be a bit of a street cred killer.
Anyway, I digress. Thankfully once the injured contestant was shipped off to the hospital and word came back that he was “all good” the competition continued. There were somersaults, flips, handstands (one handed, on a railing, 4 metres up), robot dancing and bare chests. It was impressive stuff but one problem - these guys just seemed a too good for a restricting indoor course.
The crowd began to get restless so the dreadlocked compare tried a bit of rapping to kill time.
Freerunning is famous for having no boundaries. It normally happens outside as people leap from buildings, walls and other structures – think Casino Royale, that opening sequence when 007 chases his target around a construction site. The guy who played that part is the founder of the original French version of free running Parkour. When most of the audience have become used to watching free running on this kind of scale on TV, in film and on YouTube (see below) the indoor assault course was too small. Each contestant had 90 seconds to show off their moves but after the first 30, almost all had run out of apparatus and either began to do things that, to the untrained eye, looked repetitive or seemed a bit lost as they just ran in circles around the course throwing in the odd flip here or there.
The runners were whittled down to a handful of finalists including British contestant, Pip Andersen, who swiftly became a favourite - especially with the ladies as he happens to be something of a looker. Though he didn’t win, he was the name on the girls’ lips for most of the evening and I overheard at least three women swooning; “I bet he’s incredible in bed.” When Pip’s routine ended he took his top off. And, well I think I may actually have witnessed the precise moment the UK’s next bright young thing rose to international sex symbol status.
The other highlight of the evening was the entertainment provided by The Petebox, a beat boxing legend who whipped the audience up into a frenzy with his repertoire of dance music, drum and base and his own version of the White Stripe’s Seven Nation Army. Amazing. (see video clip below).
The eventual winner was Gabriel "Jaywalker" Nunez of the United States, after a US/UK dominated final. It was pretty well deserved though, in all honesty I have no clue what I am talking about when it comes to this urban sport, but he looked pretty impressive.
The championships may have started shakily, there may have been some booing and the audience may have been more try hard trendy that pure street but the venue was full to capacity. That’s 2000 people and this sport seems to be going strength to strength and not just as a YouTube favourite. The organiser of last night’s event is in official talks with 2012 organisers to have freerunning as part of the Games, perhaps as part of the opening ceremony – proof that freerunning is well on its way to dominating the mainstream. And who knows, maybe Pip, Ez, Sticky and the rest of the UK crew can get the likes of Boris and David Higgins involved – now there’s a show not to be missed!