Opinion: What is Obstacle Course Freestyle?

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Gymnastics meet

Recently, at the same time that OCR is being adapted for the Olympics, the international gymnastics federation, the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), has announced plans to create a new gymnastics discipline of obstacle course competitions proposed for the Olympics.

Yet to be officially named, the new gymnastics discipline will consist of two formats:

  1. Obstacle course sprint
  2. Obstacle course freestyle

The two formats are to be based on parkour, a growing street activity which can be defined as moving freely within an environment.

What is obstacle course sprint?

APEX School of Movement revealed in a public statement that its ‘Time Trials’ format of competition would be adapted into FIG’s obstacle course sprint format. The format is based on parkour speed competitions and consists of short runs over an obstacle course aiming for the fastest time. Video highlights of the 2016 APEX International time trials event can be watched online.

APEX, however, since withdrew support from the FIG and cancelled the scheduled exhibition race for the new format at the FISE World Series.  FIG is still going ahead with an obstacle course sprint exhibition, partnering with JUMP Freerun.

What is obstacle course freestyle?

There has, to date, been no public announcement of what the obstacle course freestyle format will involve. But following the same model of development FIG has taken with obstacle course sprint, it could be supposed that FIG’s obstacle course freestyle will be an adaptation of current parkour competitions.

Some background on parkour competitions: many parkour competitions involve two or more competitive events. The main two are ‘speed competitions’ and ‘style competitions’. Style competitions, sometimes referred to as ‘freerunning competitions’, consist of athletes moving over an obstacle course, not aiming to cross a finish line first but instead aiming to demonstrate the best tricks, flow and style of movement within a time limit.

Video examples of notable style competitions can be seen below.

Video examples

Red Bull Art of Motion

Jump Off

Krap Challange

Are parkour style competitions just gymnastics under another name?

Watching the above videos, it’s clear to see that a link could be drawn with gymnastics.

Tucks, rotations, handstands, rolls and much more of the movement involved in  parkour style competitions are staples of gymnastic disciplines. In fact, many top-level competitors in style competitions have had gymnastics training. While the competitors however owe much of their movement inspiration to gymnastics, inspiration also comes from other activities such as breakdancing or martial arts tricking. Obstacle course freestyle, if it is to be based on parkour style competitions, would be a departure from structured gymnastics techniques, but this may be exactly what FIG needs to increase the participation and viewership of gymnastics.

While it could be argued that FIG’s obstacle course sprint format is not really a good fit with gymnastics, as being an obstacle race against other competitors for time, it has more in common with OCR or Ninja Warrior, and perhaps these sports are better suited to develop such a format? It’s not a long-shot, however, to see the crossover between gymnastics and parkour style competitions and to be able to imagine that gymnasts would be well-suited to applying their skills in a style-based, rather than time-based, obstacle competition should it become a new gymnastic discipline.

Furthermore, parkour style competitions determine results through a panel of judges awarding points to each athlete’s performance based on different factors…. the same method of judging used in gymnastics! The judging method is almost exactly the same, and it would be easy for gymnastics to adapt their current systems into a obstacle course freestyle format.

While there has been no public information released on what FIG’s obstacle course freestyle will involve, FIG’s larger plan in incorporating parkour under its governance may be the inclusion of parkour style competitions, more so than the inclusion of speed competitions.

The one thing that is certain is that it will be interesting to see athletes in trackpants, multiple sizes too large, standing alongside athletes in leotards.


On the 24th-28th of May, both obstacle course sprint and obstacle course freestyle competitions will take place in France as part of the FISE World Series. Eyes will be on this event to see what both formats of the new gymnastics discipline will involve. More info.


Read more on Gymnastic’s new obstacle sport:

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