You may have heard of parkour, the physical discipline that involves moving around urban obstacles as swiftly as possible, and which includes everything from scaling walls to backflips to leaping between rooftops. In Egypt, parkour fans have found a stunning new backdrop for this athletic art: the Great Pyramids.
Parkour, which first originated with a small group of urban athletes in the Paris suburbs of the 1980s, became popular in the 2000s when it was the focus of the film “Yamakasi.” The sport quickly spread throughout the world thanks to the Internet. In 2005, parkour made a modest debut in Egypt. Our Observer, Nasser Mahmoud, was one of the first “traceurs” – or parkour athletes – in Egypt. Today, the country has its own team, which is made up of about 60 traceurs.
"Parkour is a sport that celebrates freedom"
Nasser Mahmoud is a “traceur” and teaches physical education in Cairo.
After having discovered the sport thanks to media reports in 2005, I started to practice with a small group of friends, in a completely informal way. Two years later, I heard that a parkour team was forming in Cairo and that they were looking for a coach. I volunteered. We had our first real team practice on March 31, 2008.Thanks to social networks, parkour began getting popular in other cities throughout the country. Today, we’ve got about 60 members spread out among several sub-teams in Cairo, Asyut, Alexandria, and the 6th of October City.There are two types of practice sessions: indoors and outdoors. Students begin by learning the fundamentals of parkour indoors, in gyms. That lasts about two weeks. At the end of these two weeks, the coach decides whether the student is ready to train outdoors.Nowadays, many of us do stunts for movies: we fill in for actors in scenes where they get hit by cars, in chase scenes, etc. We also get invited to perform abroad. In 2009, we participated in the very first “Arabs Got Talent” competition in Lebanon."We sometimes get harassed by the police or even passers-by, who think we’re hooligans"There’s no federation to set up official rules for parkour. It’s a sport that celebrates freedom; it lets everyone express themselves however they wish through movement. And it’s an obstacle course. It’s like life: you have to get over the obstacles to move forward.A "free running" demonstration.We also do ‘free running’, an offshoot of parkour centred on acrobatics that is really more of a performance art, whereas parkour is more about efficient, sober movement.The biggest challenge for us was finding places where we could practice, because gym equipment is quite expensive. In Egypt, there are no sponsors for this sort of thing. Also, when we train outdoors, we sometimes get harassed by the police or even passers-by, who think we’re hooligans.Our favourite place to practice parkour in Cairo is in the neighbourhood of Gizeh, near the pyramids, because there’s a magnificent view there.Our classes are open to all. The youngest student is just five years old. We’ve also got people in their fifties who come to practice with their kids. You don’t have to be extremely athletic to get into parkour, though of course you need to be in good physical shape. On average, it takes about eight months to become a decent “traceur”.
All these photos were taken by Moatasem Fathi and Tarek Ahmed Omar, both of whom belong to Egypt’s parkour team, during practice sessions in the neighbourhood of Gizeh.
An indoor practice session