WOODWARD - You've probably seen it on a television show or in a movie. In that setting, you may not realize it's a sport. But then, when you're inventing a sport from scratch, what better publicity that the big or small screen?
The founders of the World Freerunning and Parkour Federation get the ultimate boost when MTV airs "Ultimate Parkour Challenge" Oct. 22 at 11 p.m. The duo and three of their top athletes toured the United States this summer, including a visit to Pennsylvania's ultimate sport camping destination, Woodward.
"It's like a Candyland for them," co-founder Victor Bevine said of the Woodward atmosphere, where existing X Games sports like skateboarding and BMX biking are part of the curriculum.
Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN
Pip Anderson, left, uses a railing to get down steps faster, while fellow Parkour enthusiast Ben Jenkin uses his hands.
Bevine, a New York City denizen, along with Los Angeles resident David Thompson, put the WFPF together to promote Parkour in America after picking it up overseas.
"There are people that tinker at home with a new invention. I think it's an adrenaline rush to be part of something new," Thompson said.
Certainly the pair hopes to be the discoverer of the next Tony Hawk. But even without the fame, Thompson said, he's gotten a lift from what he sees.
"We were fascinated by the technique as much as the physical prowess of these guys," he said, but added that, after working with young addicts, he was impressed just to see the positive attitude of the Parkour athletes.
"The place that I worked, it was their last stop - they either made it or they were gonna die," he explained. "To see these guys that have a whole attitude on being strong, being useful, being a participator in society is one of the things that struck me."
The sport in development actually is a technique taught in French special forces - parcour du combattants -which the son of a French veteran and his friends combined with martial arts. The result, Bevine said, is Parkour.
"It's the art of going from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible, using only the human body and the obstacles in your path," he explained, adding that the word parcour translates as "the way through."
"Some people call it urban gymnastics. I like the idea of freelance gymnastics," Thompson said. "They don't consider themselves gymnasts because they think it would change the sport if there were mats. It would change their movement if they had those safety factors involved."
Bevine is quick to point out that safety is one of the things his organization promotes, and encourages would-be Parkour athletes to visit www.wfpf.com for tips on how to practice the sport as safely as possible.
The Europeans - the movement is centered in the U.K., Bevine said - tend to see Parkour as an individual exercise, not a competition. But a competitive system was developed for the MTV program.
"The first round is a video round because that's what these guys to - they make videos for YouTube," Bevine said. "The second round is purely a speed round. The third round was a freestyle round" with an open course, but the participants had to meet certain targets, not unlike skating.
"They're more like skateboarders. They're just always trying get better themselves, and we tried to capture that in the show," Bevine said. "A lot of kids don't want to compete in this and we support that," although he admitted he and Thompson would eventually like to see Parkour added to the X Games.