Urban gymnastics is concrete + chutzpah

Parkour and free-running athletes bring it at City Hall Plaza on Friday

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Yoann Leroux executes a backflip precision on a 15-foot-high fork lift. He has said that he has done the same trick at heights twice as high.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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The top three (Jason Paul, Pip Andersen, and Marcus Gustafsson) celebrate on the podium with their champagne seconds before making it rain on the crowds below.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Marcus Gustafsson of Sweden practices his flip over two prop newspaper boxes filled with luggage bags an hour before the competition.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Patrick Bryan throws a gymnastics-inspired trick on the back of a pickup truck after learning it just ten minutes before the beginning of the competition.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Yoann Leroux meditates on the top of a fork lift during the practice session in anticipation for throwing a difficult and dangerous backflip in the preliminary competition. He also spent nearly 15 minutes placing sandpaper on various portions of the top of the lift
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Patrick Bryan side flips off the tire after running off the stairs behind him during the practice session.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Pip Andersen, who took home 2nd place, jumps from the top of a van to the side of a pickup truck during the practice session.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Michael Turner, one of eight athletes featured in MTV’s Ultimate Parkour Challenge, does a roll over a small patch of grass in City Hall Plaza.
Joanna Kao—The Tech

Twenty of the world’s best free-runners and parkour athletes gathered for the Red Bull Art of Motion competition held at City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston on Friday.

Parkour is a way of traveling from one point to another using surrounding objects to increase efficiency. Free running is essentially acrobatics integrating the city landscape.

The event combined various disciplines of athleticism and art using free running, parkour, martial arts, and gymnastics. Athletes were judged on their creativity, fluidity, technical difficulty, and execution.

The judges of the event were definitely no strangers to parkour and free running. One of the five judges was Ryan Doyle, the first champion of the Red Bull Art of Motion event. The host of the event was Travis Wong, the co-host of MTV’s Ultimate Parkour Challenge.

Even though the event was a competition, the athletes were incredibly supportive of each other, making the event seem more like a fan exhibition rather than a competition. Athletes cheered each other on during the competition and gave each other tips during the practice sessions earlier in the day.

During the practice time, they worked on individual tricks and then worked on stringing together several to create a routine. Yoann Leroux, the only French competitor, prepared himself for a difficult trick that he later pulled out in the preliminary round by meditating. Patrick Carter, an athlete from Minnesota, accidentally created a new trick for himself ten minutes before the competition began. He decided to use it after another competitor said that it looked tough to do and spent the next few minutes integrating it into a string of tricks he had prepared.

MIT students had a presence in the crowd — Joseph K. Lane ’11 attended the event along with Allen S. Yin ’11, Nathaniel Jay T. Salazar ’11, Jennifer P. Chan ’11, Isaac T. Entz ’11, and Kirsten H. Aarsvold ’11, after finding out about the event through Facebook. “None of us had seen parkour live and wanted to see what an actual competition would be like. Plus, it was a good chance to get [out] and do something different in Boston,” Lane said.

Lane stayed for the entire competition and got to see part of the practice session earlier in the day. “It was cool to see that people came from all over the world to compete. Some of the tricks were really impressive. Plus they were giving out Red Bull for free. One guy was from Paris and wore a cat’s tail on his pants; that was hot,” Lane said.

Lane thought that the event was fun despite never having done parkour or seen it live before. “If you can call jumping on the walls and couches of Simmons parkour, then we are definitely experienced parkourers,” Lane said.

The competition began with a preliminary round with all twenty athletes. Competitors got 90 seconds to use the course to impress the judges with their tricks. Highlights from the preliminary round included an impressive series of flips by Germany’s Jason Paul, a smooth-for-his-age series of tricks made by 15-year old John Reynolds, and an extremely dangerous “backflip precision on fork” trick made by Leroux, referring to a trick where he completed a back flip on a forklift arm over two stories in the air. The clear crowd favorites were Dylan Polin, a native of Massachusetts, and Michael Clark, who brought a considerably large posse of friends and fans (or perhaps just several extraordinarily vocal friends).

Eight of the twenty competitors moved onto the finals. The finals began with Leroux, who set the tone of the competition. Most athletes performed tricks on the 2nd floor of City Hall, where the spectators could not really observe. However, all competitors traveled onto the ground level at some point during their run through a series jumps. The most impressive run made in the finals was one by Paul who suddenly leaped with a series of intricate and beautiful flips over the 2nd story of City Hall to the top of a prop van and again to the ground in just mere seconds. His run served him well, and he left with 1st place. Following him in 2nd and 3rd place were Pip Andersen from the UK and Marcus Gustafsson of Sweden.