Date: June 16 2012
A LITTLE after noon today Melbourne time, Nik Wallenda, a 33-year-old Florida-born stuntman, will say a quiet prayer before setting foot onto a five-centimetre-thick cable and attempting to become the first man in 100 years to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
But while the trip across the falls from the US to Canada is about 550 metres and will take 45 minutes, the journey to get there has taken much longer and risks being overshadowed by a health and safety row. Mr Wallenda spent two years wrangling with US and Canadian authorities, who initially refused to allow the stunt. And he has spent nearly 30 years dreaming about the possibility - since a trip to the falls as a six-year-old.
Niagara has for more than a century enforced a ban on stunts amid concerns that they had become commonplace.
In 2011, Mr Wallenda walked on a high wire between the two towers of the 10-storey Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico - a walk on which his great-grandfather Karl fell to his death in 1978.
Two years ago, he returned to his Niagara fantasy. New York state and Canada's Niagara Parks Commission agreed to lift the ban, but said they would only consider future requests ''once in a generation''.
Mr Wallenda faced one more obstacle in the form of the safety demands of his main sponsor, the ABC television network. It insisted he wear a tether, to avoid the possibility of live coverage of a man falling to his death. It is a condition Mr Wallenda has reluctantly agreed to, as he cannot afford to perform without ABC's backing.
The falls generate high winds and lots of mist. He has tried to replicate the conditions, creating winds of 88km/h in training and being blasted with water by fire hoses.
See theage.com.au at 11.30am today for livestream coverage.
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