Running wild: London prepares for 'free-running' championships

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The world's best 'free-runners' are converging on London. Rob Sharp tries to learn some of their milder moves

Sticky is an international free running competitor and instructor. He's in his early twenties, sports designer stubble and can back-flip off a concrete bollard, side-flip off a subway wall, or – as happened to him recently – hop in style from roof to roof with police helicopters in pursuit. Then there's me. My joints bend halfway, then threaten to snap; I can't grow a full beard, and have recently "bust" my ankle. This means, I am told, that I cannot have the free-running name "The Coolinator", as I would wish; it has to be something earthier. I suggest "Smelly", but Sticky ignores me. He's too busy downgrading by an order of 10 the difficulty of the free running stunts we have arranged to perform together.

As an employee of free running's official UK organising body, Urban Freeflow, Sticky has taught soldiers, businessmen, cops and robbers about how to hot-foot it around the cityscape. The sport has come a long way since it was cooked up in the Paris suburbs by its founding grandaddies, Sébastien Foucan and David Belle, in the early 1990s; since then, free runners have boinged and bounced through any number of ads and music videos, polished off spins, turns and flips in Anthony Minghella's romantic thriller Breaking and Entering and Bond flick Casino Royale (both in 2006), and even developed their own world championship. The first such event was held last year at Camden's Roundhouse, attracting 2,000 people; this year's literal knees-up will take place this Saturday in a special set-up of frames and arenas to be assembled at London's Trafalgar Square; no doubt the public space's notoriously street-wise pigeons and fourth-plinth-spectators will take it in their stride.

"It is an amazing opportunity to take all that we achieved last year and take it to the next level," says Urban Freeflow co-founder EZ. "We expect at least 8,000 people and as such our production values have gone through the roof. I can't wait to get stuck in."

Sticky takes me through a few of the basics. He shows me how to jump on to, then over, a low wall (maybe useful if you're being chased by a security guard from WH Smith); as well as how to crawl along a raised partition. The latter movement is apparently best pursued while lowering your centre of gravity and shuffling along, Spider-man style. Unfortunately, I am petrified by the 6ft drop and at one point hug my chest against the wall and clamp my eyes shut, much to the disappointment both of Sticky and of our battle-hardened photographer. It's a bit like Graham Norton cat-burgling.

But this, of course, is as nothing compared with what Saturday's competitors will have to go through. The likes of the American Gabriel "Jaywalker" Nunez, last year's world champion, will pit himself against British competitors such as Paul "Blue Devil" Joseph, George "G-Force" Mayfield and Tim "Livewire" Shieff, runners-up to Nunez last year. The athletes will be rated on attributes such as technical ability, execution, creativity and fluidity. It is, apparently, all about co-opting the street space – which means that engaging with your surroundings in a novelty manner wins you a crucial leg-up.

They will do all this on a variety of specially-built devices, such as vertical pipes, angled kicker walls and scaffolding to allow for a "multitude of techniques" to be showcased. Crucially, this year there will be no matting to cushion the inevitable falls. Apparently these interfere with the athletes' grip and "stifle their flow".

Not everyone sees such events as a great excuse for a free-running love jamboree; dissenting voices in the free-running community – which has some 4,000 followers in Britain and around 20,000 worldwide – have noted the move into the world of commercialism with trepidation (both years' tournaments have been sponsored by Barclaycard). One free-running blogger, Zorak, writes: "If this is all true about the competition, then it really sucks; it is really sad how money destroys everything." EZ isn't happy about this. "The people who are saying this are the ones who don't have any sponsorship," he says.

Urban Freeflow are no strangers to controversy. They have got into trouble with some veteran free-runners for claiming to be the sport's "official" worldwide "network" – although most of them don't seem too bothered. For now, however, they're just focused on sprinting towards the weekend. "There are going to be a few surprises up people's sleeves," says EZ. "To our detractors, I would say: we are providing a selection of talented, already high-profile athletes the opportunity to showcase their abilities on a significant stage. It is a great mixed bag of competitors and can only help the sport at large. There will be a lot of people stepping up and trying out some moves that we have never seen before."

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal