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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Parkour athletes battle for top prize in Qatar’s Wild Khaleeji contest

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All photos by Chantelle d’Mello

In a blaze of fire, LEDs and gravity-defying stunts, the region’s first Parkour competition opened to a full house and a Moroccan winner as more than a dozen of the best athletes from around the region competed for the title of “Wild Khaleeji”.

The event, led by local youth empowerment organisation the Youth Company, was the culmination a MENA-wide online submission campaign and a road-trip across the GCC which resulted in 78 submissions.

The 18 finalists were chosen from qualifiers, which were held in collaboration with Mohammed Al Attar, a Red Bull-recognised freerunner and parkour athlete from Kuwait.

At yesterday’s two-hour long event, Al Attar, along with a group of judges, scored the finalists on their grace, agility, and movements, as they maneuvered a set of obstacles covering a 1,600sqm space.

The 20-year-old Moroccan Mohamed Didi beat off competition from the others to take the top title.

What is parkour?

Parkour, derived from the French term “parcours du combattant,” originated from obstacle course training in the military. Founded by French actor and stunt coordinator David Belle, parkour encourages adaptation, creativity, and freedom in urban areas.

Wild Khaleeji 2015
Wild Khaleeji 2015

Those taking part in the sport try to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible, using the momentum generated by their bodies and surroundings.

For Mohammed Farid, founder of the Youth Company, hosting the region’s first parkour tournament was both a means of encouraging the nascent sport in Qatar, and a vehicle for getting youth involved in physical activity.

“We decided upon the event as a way of bringing together fun and sport, and to re-introduce parkour to the region. It’s got a lot of hype around the Gulf and the MENA region, and we wanted to bring the best in the sport and pit them against each other to show off their skills and in a new, sport-focused event in Qatar,” he said.

Qatar’s sole representative, Jordanian expat Yousef Omar Al Mughrabi, also participated. The 20-year old former calisthenics practitioner said that he was moved to try out the urban sport after getting in touch with fellow freerunners from around the region.

“It’s a lot of hard work. We practice in parks, abandoned spaces, sometimes almost 3 hours a day,” Al Mughrabi added.

To encourage the sport and grow their individual skills, Al Mughrabi and fellow freerunners from the region have also formed the Jordan-based Werewolves Parkour Freerunning group.

Wild Khaleeji 2015
Wild Khaleeji 2015

Fellow freerunner Mohammed Al Sadd also competed in last night’s event, representing his home country of Jordan.

Growing appeal

The inaugural event, held in collaboration with Vodafone and Aspire, took place at the Aspire Zone yesterday evening, and opened with vibrant rap performances from local groups and breakdancing showcases.

Wild Khaleeji 2015
Wild Khaleeji 2015

And, perhaps reflecting the sport’s growing appeal, attraacted 3,000 spectators.

Elsewhere, parkour has slowly been on the rise in Qatar. Last year, in an effort to drum up more local interest in the sport, two Doha-based teenagers created a video showcasing parkour stunts in local parks and abandoned buildings.

The video,“Qatari Movement,” was produced by British expats 18-year-old Jake Couper and 17-year-old Azan Ahmed, and showed the latter running, jumping, climbing, rolling and vaulting over staircases, building roofs, and other architectural obstacles in Qatar.

At time time, the duo touted themselves as Qatar’s first local parkour performers.

The teens said then they were initially drawn to the activity because of the adrenaline rush.

“Parkour drew me in just because the death-defying dives and jumps looked cool. However as I progressed both mentally and physically in the sport I realised it was one of the truest forms of expressions available. Every move became your own, every obstacle is yours to interpret, in many ways it is poetry in motion,” Couper said in a statement.

Mughrabi hopes that such events help draw more followers into the sport.

“Once you get into it, it’s addictive. But you’ve got to give it your all, and do three things – practice, practice, and practice,” he said..

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