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US daredevil walks wire across Niagara Falls
Tightrope artist defies wind and mist to walk 600 metres along five-centimetre-wide cable to cross chasm into Canada.
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2012 09:42

There was "wind coming from every which way", mist so powerful it clouded his vision and an unfamiliar wire beneath
him, but Nik Wallenda didn't let that stop him from becoming the first person to walk on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls.

Wallenda took steady, measured steps on Friday night for 600 metres on a wire across the widest part of the gorge of the roaring falls separating the US and Canada, accomplishing what he said was his childhood dream.

"I feel like I'm on cloud nine right now,'' an exuberant Wallenda told reporters after his feat, which he performed before an estimated 112,000 people crowding the shores of both countries and millions more who watched a live television broadcast.

"There was no way to focus on the movement of the cable,'' said Wallenda, 33. "If I looked down at the cable there was water moving everywhere. And if I looked up there was heavy mist blowing in front of my face. So it was a very unique, a weird sensation.''

The seventh-generation member of the famed Flying Wallendas had long dreamed of pulling off the stunt, never before attempted. Other daredevils have wire-walked over the Niagara River but farther downstream and not since 1896.

Children nearby

After passing the halfway mark, Wallenda expressed fatigue. "I'm strained, I'm drained,'' he said. "This is so physical, not only mental but physical.''

Toward the end, as he neared the Canadian shore, Wallenda dropped to one knee and pumped his fist while the spectators cheered. He broke into a playful run about five metres from the finish line, where his wife and three children waited.

ABC televised the walk and insisted Wallenda use a tether to keep him from falling in the river. Wallenda said he agreed because he wasn't willing to lose the chance to perform the walk it took him well over a year to win permission from the two countries to do. Such stunts are normally illegal.

For Wallenda, who has grown up on the high wire and holds six Guinness records for various stunts, the Niagara Falls walk was unlike anything he'd ever done. Because it was over water, the six-centimetre wire didn't have the usual stabiliser cables to keep it from swinging.

Generations past

The Wallendas trace their roots to a travelling band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and trapeze artists who performed in central Europe during the 18th century.

The clan has been touched by tragedy, notably in 1978 when patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik's great-grandfather, fell to his death during a stunt in Puerto Rico.

About a dozen other tightrope artists have crossed the Niagara Gorge downstream, dating to Jean Francois Gravelet, aka The Great Blondin, in 1859.

But no one had walked directly over the falls, and authorities hadn't allowed any tightrope acts in the area since 1896.
 
It took Wallenda two years to persuade US and Canadian authorities to allow it, and many civic leaders hoped to use the publicity to jumpstart the region's struggling economy, particularly on the US side of the falls.

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Source:
Agencies
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