High Wire Walking

By: CBS News
By: CBS News

Seoul, South Korea -- Contestants braved strong winds and swooping birds on Thursday as they walked a 1-kilometre-long (0.62-mile-long) high wire across a Seoul river in a competition that organisers claimed was a record-breaking distance for their feats of balance.

The World High-Wire Championships - a three-day event - are part of the capital's annual Hi Seoul Festival, with 18 contestants from nine countries each being given an hour to complete the walk across the high wire stretching above the Han River.

The fastest wins a 15-thousand (th) US Dollar (euro11,000) award.

The iron rope is supported on 22-metre-high (72-foot-high) towers on each bank of the river.

A safety net was deployed under the sections of the wire over the river banks, but anywhere else on the wire the walkers faced a plunge into the water if they fell.

Holding a pole for maintaining balance, the first contestant - South Korea's Kwon Won-tae - glided across the 30-millimetre-thick (1.2-inch-thick) wire as hundreds on each bank of the river cheered and clapped wildly.

Kwon, a famous tightrope walker in South Korea, flinched a few times when his balance was disrupted by the wind and birds before completing the walk in 17 minutes and 7 seconds.

His time was beaten by Abdusataer Dujiabudula, who was named Thursday's winner of the competition. The overall winner of the three-day event will be announced on Saturday.

"It feels very good. It feels alright. It was very tight," he said after completing the challenge.

Russia's Alexey Marchenko was disqualified after falling into the river with just 50 metres left to go.

South Korea has a tradition of tightrope walking going back centuries.

The skill was featured last year in the popular South Korean film "King and the Clown" that centres on a troupe of entertainers who become court jesters. In the movie, Kwon was a stand-in for the lead actor in tightrope walking scenes.

Oh Sae-hoon, the Mayor of Seoul, expressed admiration for all contestants.

"Up till now, the world record was only 400 meters. The river Han is 1 kilometre wide, so just the mere fact that they crossed the river is enough to be recorded in the Guinness Book of Records," he said.

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