Above photo: Team manager Dana Englestad points to Natalia Velidtchenko's bronze medals.
The U.S. Accuracy Landing Team—Edin Alisa, Keith Bergeron, Jimmy Drummond, James Hayhurst, Molly Howsare, Ihab Mahmoud, Cheryl Stearns and Natalia Velidtchenko—had a great showing at the 37th Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Championships of Freefall Style and Accuracy Landing in Strakonice, Czech Republic, July 16-23. The U.S.—with Dana Englestad as team manager—fielded both men’s and women’s accuracy landing competitors. Hayhurst, Stearns and Velidchenko also competed in freefall style. On a strong team, Velidchenko emerged as the biggest standout, bringing home three bronze medals for the U.S. The U.S. did not field any competitors in the junior event (for jumpers under age 25).
Accuracy Landing is the oldest competitive discipline in the sport, with the first world championships taking place in 1951 in the former Yugoslavia. In the early days, the landing target was a large cross, but as competitors and parachute technology improved, the landing target progressively shrank. Today’s event requires the utmost precision, as competitors shoot for a 2-cm dead-center disc placed on a foam or air-filled tuffet. An electronic pad records scores outside of dead center (which scores zero) in 1 cm increments. In accuracy, as in golf, a low score is good. The slimmest of margins can separate the winners, as Velidtchenko can attest: Her women’s individual accuracy performance of 18 cm required two jump-offs to secure the bronze medal. Stearns, a perennially strong competitor, placed fifth only a slim 3 cm behind her teammate.
In the team accuracy landing event, nations compete as teams of five. The individual scores count for both the individual competition and for the team competition. With only three female competitors, the U.S. did not field a women’s team, but the U.S. men’s accuracy team placed 11th in a field of 23. James Hayhurst was the top individual performer for the U.S. men’s team, making it into the semi-final round and ultimately placing 27th in a field of 131.
Freefall style is a timed event, with competitors completing a series of back-loops and turns as quickly as possible. Precision is also an important component, as imperfect maneuvers earn a time penalty. Although style is no longer a national championship event in the U.S., three U.S. competitors entered at this world championships. Velidtchenko again put in a top performance, winning bronze in female style. Her performance earned her the FAI North American Continental Female Freefall Style Record for Lowest Score with a 40.84-second score after five rounds, and it also secured her the bronze medal in the female overall style and accuracy category. Stearns placed sixth in the field of 12 women stylists, putting her in fourth place—heartbreakingly close to the podium—in the overall female category. Hayhurst placed 12th in a field of 31 for both the male style and overall categories.
The members of the U.S. Accuracy Landing Team would not be able to rest on their laurels for long. Returning to the states at the end of July, they set their sights on September’s USPA Nationals at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois.
A full scoreboard is available at results.worldskydiving.org.