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OLYMPICS

Paris gets in breakdance groove ahead of 2024 Olympic bow

Dancers executing backflips and freezes, gyros and headspins with gravity-defying agility in front of an adoring audience - welcome to the world breakdance championships.

Paris gets in breakdance groove ahead of 2024 Olympic bow
A dancer from the Red Bull BC One All Star team competes during the Breakdance contest "Paris Battle Pro" at La Seine Musicale in Paris on Saturday. Photo: LUCAS BARIOULET / AFP
The staple of urban street culture is set to make a splash on its Olympic debut at the Paris 2024 Games.  And on Saturday night a 4,000 crowd came to be mesmerised by the moves performed by some of the most skilled exponents of 'breaking' at Battle Pro in the French capital.
 
One b-boy, Stephane Sabotinov, took time out before going on stage to celebrate Thursday's announcement by Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet that breaking was set to become “a future Olympic sport”.
 
“Breakdance is impressive,” Sabotinov, kitted out in white and black and baseball cap, told AFP. “There's the battle side of it, we're here to engage, but with respect. We bump fists at the end even if we're going to war.”
 
Sabotinov, one of 120 dancers competing on Saturday evening, hopes breaking's elevation to the Olympics will erase any “negative stereotypes” surrounding it.
 
“We come from the street so we're linked to violence. And because we wear baseball caps we're clearly delinquents! But it's the opposite, we put all our aggression into dance,” he says.
 
There's a family atmosphere at Battle Pro, parents and children mingling with tracksuited teenagers.
 
Deborah Lombo has turned up with her nine-year-old daughter, Cassie.
 
 
'Earplugs'
 
“This is the first time we've come to watch breakdancing. There's a warm side, it's not like classical dance,” said Deborah.
 
“I think my eyes are going to be opened. The boys are watching football back home so we're on a girls' night out” smiled the 29-year-old customer relations manager at a bank.
 
As the music pounds out, one father takes a precautionary measure and fits his two little daughters with earplugs.
 
“The DJ is really important, he's the one who dictates the tempo and rhythm for the dancers. Almost 80 per cent of DJs are former dancers,” recounts Zoubir, founder of Battle Pro 19 years ago.
 
One spectator on hand to watch RedBull All Stars win the team competition was Brahim Zaibat. A celebrity French dancer/choreographer who performed alongside Madonna at halftime at the 2012 SuperBowl, Zaibat gave a cautious welcome to breaking's Olympic admission.
 
“It's good for the dancers, it's progress, but we'll have to see how it's staged, how it's judged. We're waiting to see.”
 
On Thursday, Estanguet, the head of the Paris 2024 local organising committee, said skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing, which have already been added to the programme for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, have been invited to return in Paris four years later – with breakdancing joining them.
 
“Right from the beginning, our aim was to offer Games that would have an impact and the element of surprise,” said Estanguet, former Olympic gold medallist in canoeing.
 
“This is why we have chosen to present the IOC with four sports that are as creative as spectacular, geared towards youth and completely in line with our vision.”
 
The choice of the four sports still needs to be rubberstamped by the International Olympic Committee.
 
Breakdancing, known as breaking, appeared at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, in the form of head-to-head “battles”.
 
Russia's Sergei Chernyshev, competing under the nickname Bumblebee, won the first breakdancing gold medal for boys in that event, while Japan's Ramu Kawai won the girls' title.
 
By AFP's Sabine Colpart
 

ENVIRONMENT

How clean is the Seine and can it really be used for Paris Olympics outdoor swim events?

Three years until the Paris Olympics - and 33 years after then-President Jacques Chirac promised to transform the then-filthy Seine - how clean is the river that runs through the French capital?

How clean is the Seine and can it really be used for Paris Olympics outdoor swim events?
Swimmers flout the ban on swimming in the Seine in Paris during the 1946 heatwave. Photo: AFP

Olympic open water swimming events are scheduled to take place at the Pont d’Iéna, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower – which means the pressure is on to ensure that the water quality is good enough. And it is the big question at the LH forum in Le Havre, which opens today, where the state of the river will be a key topic on the agenda.

And the news is promising, but there is still much to do, according to officials.

Unlike Chirac, for whom a dip in the Seine in 1988 would have been insane, Arthur Germain – the son of Paris mayor and presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo – swam the 800km length of the river this summer while wearing equipment to test water quality in real time. 

He told Le Parisien that his Seine swim lasted 50 days, and that he finished it ‘without having the slightest pimple or stomach ache’, adding that water quality in the river across the Île de France region was better than researchers had expected.

ALSO READ Five things to know about the Paris 2024 Olympics

Since the 1970s a number of fish species have returned to the river as water treatment works have improved, increasing oxygen levels in the water.

“There were three species of fish … there are now more than 30,” said Christophe Poupart of the Agence de l’Eau Seine-Normandie (AESN), responsible for monitoring the state of the river and its basin. 

But pesticide pollution remains a serious problem, he said. “Between 2013 and 2019, the number of rivers poisoned by nitrates has doubled.” 

Ecological pressure on the river is massive, according to Poupart. About 30 percent of the population of France live near the Seine, the smallest of the four major French rivers. 

Despite that, Dan Angelescu, founder of Fluidion which measures bacteria levels under the Alexandre-III bridge in Paris, said: “We see signs of improvement, the quality of bathing water could be satisfactory even in Paris. But it will require close monitoring.”

Swimming in the river in Paris has been illegal since 1923. 

Further along the river, towards the estuary, conditions aren’t quite so promising – in part because of the heavy industry along the river in Normandy.

“France has five major plastic producers, two of which are located on the Normandy Seine. As a result, we find about 1 million tons per year in the estuary,” ecologist Laurent Colasse said. 

Environmental associations have cleaned up waste plastic dating back to the 1970s and 1980s along the banks of the river in Normandy. Romain Tramoy, a researcher at the École des ponts at the University of Paris-Est-Créteil, described the waste ‘like fossils but with the advantage of having the date engraved … Many go back 40-50 years’.

The Paris Olympic organising committee want to hold outdoor swimming events such as the triathlon in the Seine – at present the Paris triathlon uses the slightly cleaner waters of the Canal Ourcq which runs through the north of the city.

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