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End of an Era at Ollerup Parkour

Even if you haven’t attended a jam or classes at the legendary Ollerup gym in Denmark, you’ve likely seen the inside. The renowned green spring floor and its unique slant have been host to the most impressive names in parkour, performing skills that could only be explored in concept without the inspiring architecture that only exists in this barn. Ollerup has made a name for themselves by holding regular jams and classes that bring parkourists from all over the world, and the most recent jam was likely the last for some time. This hub of parkour culture is undergoing a massive shift, and the parkour program is paying the price. Peter Juel Nielsen and I sat down to discuss the future of Ollerup Parkour, and the legacy of one of parkour’s most beloved spots. 

Me: How long have you been involved with Ollerup?

Peter: The first time I was ever at Ollerup was in 2013 when the gym was built. Then, I attended twice a year until 2015, when I really started becoming integrated into the Ollerup ecosystem. There is a position for past students to help coach classes, and these camps were somewhere I could go and teach children and adults all kinds of cool shit. More recently, I’ve been down at Ollerup at least once a week for our Sunday Jam, but it depends on how people are feeling and if they’re around. Ollerup has become a home for us, where we can show up on a whim and train whenever we want. 

Me: For those who aren’t aware, Ollerup isn’t specific to parkour, correct? 

Peter: Right, Ollerup is a facility for gymnastics and general education. After college in Denmark there’s this gap, and some people will save up money and travel, some will attend school, some will work, etc. Ollerup is one of the options for higher education. You pay Ollerup to attend school there for a semester. You basically live there from January to May, and are taught topics on being human, being in a strong community in Denmark, and developing really grounded values. Then there’s the gymnastics and parkour. This specialization is what makes Ollerup different from all of the other schools of its kind. There are schools for theater, music, things like that, so your interests can determine which school you want to attend.

Me: How many students have benefitted from learning at Ollerup?

Peter: Oh shit, good question. The parkour line has always been fairly small. Since 2013 we have had an average of roughly 10 students per line, or semester. Across the decade that Ollerup Parkour has been teaching, it’s been well over 200 enrolled students, not to mention those who visit for jams and benefit from the facility in that way. Let’s say you’re a parkour student at Ollerup. You would have two hours in the gym Monday-Thursday, with other classes in between. Some students come in knowing absolutely nothing about parkour, and some people even choose this subject just to get into the school and get access to all of the other impressive resources this facility has to offer. But just about everyone who’s been involved with the program has seen a benefit. It jumps up on you, because it isn’t the actual teaching that helps you learn about parkour, it’s everything else surrounding it. You suddenly become a more individual individual, if that makes sense. You learn a lot about yourself in the process of doing things that scare you, or doing things you might not think you want to do. Jonathan always has a big challenge that runs for a whole week, ranging from no cell phones, to only cold showers for a week, so you’re always on your toes for something. In my first week our challenge was to complete 1,000 burpees, so we started with 100, and stopped whatever we were doing to do burpees multiple times a day until we’d completed our challenge. It’s cool just doing crazy shit.

Me: Do the coaches have free reign with what they can teach?

Peter: Yes. Jonathan is the head teacher for the parkour line specifically. He has free reign to teach whatever he wants, and he has his own philosophy on parkour movement that’s deeply rooted in the Yamakasi training style of being strong to be useful. He doesn’t force us to do quadrupedal movements for two hours before practicing or anything like that, but it’s more about the mental exercise, and the storyline of how parkour came to be what it is today. 

Me: The gym has been the backdrop for countless parkour videos. What is your favorite project you remember being filmed in the gym?

Peter: Hahaha, yeah actually, the video that Sam Sutherland just made and Motus released. That one tugged on my heartstrings. I also have a friend who made a video that instead of Ollerup, he titled it “Hopperup,” so it’s “jumping-rup” just a little play on words. Those are the main ones for me. We also have some jam videos from like 2014-2015 that bring back so many memories. Of course we were shit back then, so nothing big went down, but it’s still great to watch. 

Me: Yeah, even Motus has Ollerup videos dating back to 2017, and with just a quick scan of YouTube, you can find Ollerup footage from as far back as opening night! What is one of your favorite experiences from training at Ollerup?

Peter: My favorite experiences? Hmm… there is a specific swing, from a rail, over the foam pit, and to the back wall of the gym. There’s history behind that swing. The first time it was ever done was in 2013, and the only way to get up there was to lache from another bar, climb up, and then you could swing. You’re supposed to do it with a pen in your mouth, so that if you catch, you can climb up to a piece of cardboard that’s hung there and write your name. The cardboard has been there since the beginning, so everyone’s names are all still there, dating back to the first success of this challenge. The first time I ever tried, I was nowhere close, but over the course of six years, I ended up getting that challenge. That moment, after six years of banging this challenge, it was (kisses fingertips) beautiful.  

Me: How did the closure come about?

Peter: In the spring semester of 2021, we only had four people enrolled. We were supposed to have eleven, but people either switched to a different program or dropped out entirely. This is due to closures that were still in effect in 2021, which prevented the parkour line from opening in time, and started the program much later than normal. Jonathan, as a teacher, is worth a certain amount of money because of his experience, and if there aren’t enough students signed up for the parkour line, then the school can’t effectively pay him and keep the program running. So they decided to scrap the parkour line. Now, back in September, Jonathan called me up and told me that the administration had decided to cut the gym in half. No notice, he was just told, “You’re losing half your gym and you can’t do anything about it.” That being said, I’ve always been somewhere between the general public and the inside management of Ollerup. Talking to teachers and staff, they don’t seem to understand why this is happening, and the administration just says it’s for financial reasons. They want to get more people in, and the way to do that is to create spaces for other lines. They want to expand the space for the fitness line, and so they’re going to empty half of the parkour hall and build a CrossFit-type space there. I’m guessing that’s the reason. They want to be able to bring in more people, and creating more space was the way to do that. Since we don’t have a parkour line anymore anyway, they decided we don’t need an entire parkour barn. 

Me: Of course, we need a whole barn! How much does it cost to enroll in the parkour line at Ollerup?

Peter: I paid $6,700 American dollars. That pays for room and board with a roommate, three meals-a-day, trips, and of course the lessons and facilities. That’s for a 5-month semester as well. The state covers the cost of the semester of schooling, so it would be three times the cost if this was strictly a parkour program. Not a lot of people know that; they assume you just train, train, train. 

Me: Is there anything that can be done to save the gym?

Peter: At the moment, I’m in talks with Jonathan to redesign things. We aren’t getting rid of anything, we’re just rearranging. We can do that in a lot of ways. One option is to lose the green spring floor, and move the boxes around in that area, but how do you eliminate something so iconic and do it justice? How do you make a gym that’s just as inspiring with half the space? I spoke to the management in March and explained the impact of our gym on the community, internationally, and on people who haven’t even visited the gym. Me and others have tried our best to speak objectively and with reason, but it’s fallen on deaf ears. Until the gym is actually halved there’s a glimmer of hope, but it’s likely going to go. That’s just the reality of it. So, it’s about acceptance. Of course, we don’t want to lose a beloved spot like this, but it’s private property and we don’t have any say. It’s not our place to actually stop them. We actually talked about cutting up the green floor and selling strips hahaha. 

Me: You should! I would pick up one of those little green strips in a heartbeat hahaha. What will you miss most about the gym?

Peter: The sessions for sure. They go on for hours, and it’s become our meeting place, especially in the winter. There aren’t many places that have indoor parkour facilities that are open like these. I’ll miss having those sessions, hanging out, and those little goals I’ve always been chasing. I have goals that I’m going to lose the opportunity to hit because of a combination of the gym changing and my own injuries. It’s rough but it’s just how life is. You have to take the good with the bad. 

Me: What are your plans in the wake of the changes?

Peter: The first step of the plan was to speak to the principal. His words to us were that this change was going to happen, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Step two is to keep going down to what’s left of the gym and keep training regardless. If they see that interest is down even more now that the gym is halved, then they might elect to remove it altogether, including the outdoor area. Creating a new environment and making it just as good, but smaller, and opening up to the outdoor section, adding a roof to the outdoor area, those are all parts of step 3. Our goal is to take this change in stride and continue to provide a great gym for jams, and maybe classes again someday. Parkour at Ollerup hasn’t died, it’s just having a downward trend. It may come back better than before. It’s alright to be sad, but the future is positive. Adapt to overcome.

While the changes coming to Ollerup are certainly a concern, it seems that the parkour community in Denmark is taking these changes in stride. Preventing the untimely end of Ollerup Parkour is a goal that all of us can get behind, especially if that means attending more jams and creating new legendary challenges for athletes to pine after.  Parkour spots unfortunately come and go. All of us have, at one time or another, lost access to a dear local spot. It can be a painful experience thinking about the lost opportunities, but in this case, new challenges are just on the horizon. Who knows? This shakeup might just refresh Ollerup and create an entirely new experience for those who have been lucky enough to see this gym in its former glory.