From Yellow River to Paris, sports brings Chinese and French people closer

French slackline walker Benoit Humm showcased his skills amidst breathtaking scenery along China's Yellow River during a high-stakes competition.
From Yellow River to Paris, sports brings Chinese and French people closer

French slackline walker Benoit Humm, with his golden hair fluttering in the breeze, concentrated intensely as he balanced on a 2.5cm-wide band, suspended 170 meters above the ground. This dramatic scene unfolded above China's "Mother River," the Yellow River, in Hejin city, Shanxi Province, during a high-profile slackline competition. Despite the stunning backdrop, Humm had little opportunity to savor the view.

Slacklining, an extreme sport that synthesizes elements of rock climbing, parkour, and gymnastics, requires athletes to maintain their balance on a narrow, elevated band, competing in either speed or skill-based maneuvers.

At this event, Humm was pitted against his long-time rival, Shi Hailin from China, who holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest 100m slackline walk. Both competitors, donning identical outfits down to their sunglasses and headbands as a mutual tribute, prepared for the challenge. Humm's right foot was notably bandaged, a recent injury that underscored the demanding nature of their sport.

From Yellow River to Paris, sports brings Chinese and French people closer

Despite this setback, Humm, who clinched his first gold medal a month ago at the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow, advanced to the top four among 20 competitors from China, Germany, Spain, and other countries. The competitors were tasked with walking 50 meters on a slackline at a height comparable to half that of the Eiffel Tower.

After two rigorous rounds, Humm did not secure a victory. Reflecting on the competition, he remarked, "I'm really happy to see that. It's a positive competition because we pull each other up," acknowledging the elevated level of competition since his peak in 2019.

Humm's ties to China, where he has competed multiple times, run deep. He described the country as his "blessed land," particularly recalling his 2019 victory in Zhangjiajie, which marked his ascendancy in the sport. This victory also helped to ignite a passion for slacklining among many young Chinese, including He Jinyi, who outperformed Humm in the preliminary round and cites him as a major influence.

Slacklining has not only become a popular sport in China, attracting tourists to its scenic competitions, but it has also been embraced as a broadly accessible activity.

"This sport helps people to balance, to stay calm, and to recover from injury. So I think everybody can do it, not only the children, but also the elderly," said Humm, who hoped to inspire more people through his story and performance to pursue bigger dreams.

From Yellow River to Paris, sports brings Chinese and French people closer

"All you need is a ribbon and two fixing points, and you're ready to practice," said Shi, adding that in universities, parks, and outdoors in many big cities, more and more young people, even as young as six, have begun to practise.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and France, and the Olympic Games will be held in Paris.

Humm said that China and France have many similarities, such as rich food, diverse landscapes, and so on. He hopes through sports, the two peoples can enhance their understanding of each other, and personally visit each other's country to explore more hidden beauty.

"The Yellow River is the mother river of China, and it has special meaning and power for the Chinese people. Holding a competition in such a special place can convey to the world the spirit of trying hard and never giving up," said Humm.

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