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."

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?