Super Bowl Performance Leads to Springtime for Slackliners

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People are still talking about the middle finger and the marching bands, but now they're finally coming back to the forgotten star of Madonna's halftime show — the flying dude in the toga.

The man dressed like Caesar and bouncing on a nearly invisible wire was Andy Lewis, performing on what's known as a slackline. Part high wire, part trampoline, a slackline is stretchy nylon string that's a couple of inches wide and designed for both death-defying walks and gymnastic tricks. Both Lewis and his sport were anonymous when he went on stage on Sunday, but today he gets profiled by both ABC News and The New York Times, (the Daily Mail chose to focus on his unprotected groin) and the exposure of the biggest TV audience in history has likely won more than a few converts to the ranks of semi-pro daredevilism.

This extreme sport is still pretty new, but you can find plenty of practitioners on YouTube, where you can see both low level acrobatics performed just a few feet off the ground, and dangerous tightrope walks thousands of feet above canyon floors. (According to the Times, the sport got its start in the world of rock climbing.) There are competitions, of course, and the best performers can get sponsors, but like the early days of skateboarding and snowboarding, the challenge is mostly a personal one, with both pros and amateurs simply to looking out do each other and themselves.

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Lewis's Super Bowl routine looked pretty impressive to most viewers, but he claims it was mostly entry level stuff. Performing in front of 70,000 screaming fans 12 feet off the ground (Lewis says "I would have probably broken my leg” had he fallen) presented its own set of challenges. He got the gig after Madonna's publicist received a slackline kit in a MTV Movie Awards gift bag last year and she decided to incorporate into her act. It may not become an Olympic sport anytime soon, but like parkour it is definitely having a moment. At very least you expect to see both more rock-n-roll montages on YouTube ... and epic slackline faceplants from over-matched amateurs.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.