Parkour, the video-friendly sport in which daredevils race over rooftops, flip over ledges and climb walls without assistance or equipment, always has felt a little different. Its freewheeling ethos makes it stand out from other sports, and that perception is encouraged by its fans, athletes and organizers.
But as the sport's popularity has increased since its emergence in the late 1980s, it has become more organized. And with the lure of a major leap in legitimacy on the horizon, the sport has been drawn into an intramural feud over who governs the acts of spinning, twirling athletes spectacularly catapulting themselves through an urban landscape.
The feud has reached the point that one side — parkour's international federation, Parkour Earth — has announced that it is not interested in what is considered the holy grail of recognition for lesser-known sports: inclusion in the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee met in early December to determine the lineup of the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Break dancing, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added to the list of official events.
But individual federations can seek to add events to their lineups. And with a focus on attracting a younger audience — look at the sports that were added — parkour could enter the conversation.
Early parkour practitioners emphasized expressiveness almost as much as the physicality of the sport. Competitiveness and rivalry were shunned as being against the nature of parkour.
Parkour Earth was founded in 2007. Ten years later, the international gymnastics federation — the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) — began holding parkour events, saying the sport was a natural extension of its own.
That put the two federations at loggerheads. FIG wants the sport included in the Olympics; Parkour Earth does not.
There are the two main events of competitive parkour that would be candidates for the Olympics. In a speed run, athletes race over a course without pausing for tricks or specialty moves, with only their time counting toward their victory. In freestyle, the athletes are judged subjectively on difficulty and execution.
There are parkour enthusiasts who have always failed to see the appeal of the Olympics and believe the ultracompetitiveness of the Games conflicts with the spirit of parkour. It is an internal conflict that has surfaced in other sports with unconventional ethos, like snowboarding and skateboarding.
Ryan Doyle, an English legend of the sport, said in 2010: "Sometimes, people ask, 'Who is the best at parkour?' and it's because they don't understand what parkour is. 'Who is the best?' is what you'd say to a sport, and parkour is not a sport, it is an art form, it's a discipline. That's like saying, 'What's the best song in the world?' "