The latest extreme sport: 'Free running' hits Britain

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The Independent Online

Forget bungee jumping. The latest craze for any self-respecting daredevil is "free running" or, as the French, who invented it, say, "le parkour".

Sebastien Foucan, 29, a stuntman who came up with the idea, has been in London with two colleagues to introduce "free running" to Britain.

The extreme sport involves using famous buildings as obstacle courses, even if it necessitates teetering precariously on ledges, performing mid-air flips and dangling from rooftop railings.

While being filmed for a Channel 4 programme, the trio have conquered the Royal Albert Hall, Somerset House, the Royal National Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Saatchi Gallery and the Tate Modern. In one instance, M. Foucan performed a 20ft jump across two storeys from HMS Belfast's bridge to its gun turret. In another, his colleague Johann Vigroux bounded from one level of the National Theatre to another while M. Foucan did a handstand from the outer balcony.

The extreme sport came to the attention of the British public last year, when a BBC advert featured David Belle, a childhood friend of M. Foucan's and co-founder of Le Parkour, leaping from rooftop to rooftop across London and performing handstands 120ft above the traffic.

The team liken the sport to the stunts in films including The Matrix and Star Wars. It evolved in the quiet suburban town of Lisses, near Paris, where M. Foucan and M. Belle spent their childhood.

M. Foucan, who has gone on to star in television adverts for Nike and Toyota, said: "Lisses was a beautiful town but for us growing up there, there was nothing to do. We were running and jumping and going to the top of the school to play at being ninjas and it became our game."

The Mayor of Lisses, Thierry Lalon, remembered his concern as the risky sport overtook the town. "Everyone could see young people going up and down the walls like cats in the town," he said.

But M. Foucan said that the game transformed into a discipline, with a distinct philosophy. "It is not just a game, it is a discipline because it is a way of facing our fears and demons and you can apply this to the rest of your life," he said. The group's co-ordinator, Jason White, who has worked on films including the Bond movieThe Living Daylights, said he was dubious of the group's skills until he saw them in action. Fans of le parkour are said to include the Arsenal footballer and French international Robert Pires.