The 2nd FAI Wingsuit Flying World Championships
Photos by Scott Callantine
In the Olomouc region of the Czech Republic lays Prostějov, a city of more than 44,000 people that dates back to the 12th century. Home to the 601st Special Forces Group of the Czech Armed Forces, the airport in Prostějov has a history in parachuting going back to 1960. The drop zone Jump-Tandem, owned by Martin Dlouhý, a professional skydiver of more than 33 years, has been host to multiple world events, including two Vector Festivals, the CYPRES 25th Anniversary Boogie, three European Championships, two Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Cups and now two FAI World Championships.
The 2nd FAI Wingsuit Flying World Championships took place at Jump-Tandem August 26-31. Seventy-six competitors from 23 countries attended, including delegations from seasoned countries such as Australia, Canada, Russia and the U.S.; competitors from Moldova and Kosovo, which were participating for the first time at an FAI event; and the host nation, Czech Republic.
The organizers planned and executed live media coverage incredibly, bringing in talented air-sports presenter Regan Tetlow and hosting a variety of guests. Local Czech television reporters were on site later in the competition, providing coverage and conducting interviews of some of the athletes as they landed.
In the hangar, each delegation had its own cubicle that included a table, benches, inflatable couches and a water cooler. As the registration day progressed, each country hung their flags outside their areas, showing the pride all had for their teams. Opening ceremonies—featuring a big-screen TV broadcast, dancers and the anthems of the Czech Republic and the FAI—took place in a second hangar designed for packing.
Nine competitors from the United States attended. Six of those competed only in performance wingsuit flying, including the 2016 World Champion and 2017 World Cup winner, Chris Geiler, as well as returning members Alexey Galda, Daniel Darby, Joe Ridler, Kristian Szczepitko and Kyle Lobpries. The U.S. Acrobatic Wingsuit Flying Team consisted of returning competitors Travis Mickle and Anthony Zerbonia (who also competed in performance), as well as new team member Lane Paquin.
During the performance flying competition, athletes must perform one of three tasks in a 1,000-meter altitude window from 3,000 meters AGL to 2,000 meters AGL: time (the longest time in the window), speed (the average horizontal speed through the window) and distance (the farthest flown in the window).
Despite some weather challenges and changes to the rules, competitors completed the first speed task on day one, with Mickle scoring a solid 304.2 km/h and locking in the 100-percent score for the round. This year, competitors had a 600-meter-wide designated lane that they must stay in while delivering their performances, creating a new challenge for competitors. Instead of simply getting out of the plane and performing in either speed, time or distance, they had to also be proficient in navigating from the exit to a designated reference point. The FAI implemented this rule to decrease the number of participants who were getting too close to other competitors during their runs and causing safety concerns. The rule stipulated three levels of penalties: a 10 percent reduction in the percentage score (not the performance score) if a competitor was fewer than 150 meters outside their lane (minor penalty), a 20 percent reduction if they were 150-300 meters outside their lane (moderate penalty), a 50 percent reduction if they were more than 300 meters outside their lane (major penalty) and a score of zero for any subsequent major penalty. This new penalty system had many implications for the results of day one. However, the U.S. Team was able to complete the first jump of speed without a single penalty, and six of the eight competitors sat in the top 10 at the end of the day.
Day two was quite eventful for the U.S. Team, as Geiler broke his own world record of 95.4 seconds in the first round of the time task with a remarkable 100.2 seconds flown in the 1,000-meter window! While this currently stands as a world record, Geiler had a minor penalty applied to his run, causing him to have a score of 90 percent instead of 100 percent, dropping him to fourth for what was otherwise a first-place performance. The first round of distance proved fruitful for the team, as 2015 and 2016 team member Ridler (who did not attend the 2017 World Cup due to a shoulder injury) returned to the team, posting a 4.483 km distance run, placing him in third. With one full round now complete, the U.S. held down the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place spots in the top 10.
Day three began with the second task of speed, where Mickle once again posted the 100-percent score. Geiler won the second time and distance tasks, putting him back on the top of the leaderboard.
Day four was difficult to complete due to impending weather. Competitors had to complete the entire third time task from a lower altitude, which made it difficult to generate the typical amount of speed leading into the competition window and lowered scores all around. Given the constraints, an impressive 85.6-second run from Russia’s Dmitry Podoryashy led him to win the task. Mickle won the speed task for the third day in a row.
On the final day of competition and with only one task to go, all competitors were anxious to complete distance and receive their final scores. With Geiler in third place, he needed to have an incredible performance to move into second place. With his 100-percent score of 4.879 meters, Geiler did just that, sneaking into second place over Podoryashy and beating him by just 0.1 percent overall. Veteran competitor Espen Fadnes from Norway, winner of the 2015 World Cup, took home the gold this year with a total score of 281.5 percent. Geiler followed behind in second with a score of 278.4 percent, with Podoryashy in third with a score of 278.3 percent.
Two of the U.S. competitors faced an additional challenge that they weren’t quite expecting entering the competition. As Mickle and Zerbonia were the only two athletes in the entire competition competing in both the performance and acrobatic events, and with only five total acrobatic teams registered, the meet director decided to run the two competitions concurrently. That way, it would not slow down the performance competition. This was done by creative manifesting that allowed the two athletes to meet the minimum requirement of one hour on the ground between jumps within each event. This allowed them to be on both performance and acrobatic loads on the same day, switching their suits between every jump. Instead of the nine jumps performance flyers complete, or the seven jumps acrobatic flyers complete, these two competitors flew 16 total jumps in this competition. Even more impressive was that Mickle had a seventh-place finish in performance with only one lane violation, while Zerbonia finished 25th.
In the acrobatic competition, teams of three athletes (two performers and a videographer) must complete two kinds of rounds. The free rounds, of which there are four, consist of any routine competitors wish to perform. They are then judged on dive plan (how creative their routine is), style (how well they execute the routine) and camera work (how smooth and creative the camera flyer is). Free rounds are much more subjective than compulsory rounds, where teams—still scored on style and camera—must repeat two predetermined sequences featuring grips that the judges count to produce the third score.
With two new acrobatic teams from Russia, returning teams from Finland and Great Britain and new competitor Lane Paquin joining the U.S. Team, it was anybody’s bet who would take first. Both teams from Russia started off strong, with the U.S. Team holding its own in second place through most of the competition. After round six, however, the U.S. dropped to third place. Going into the last round on the last day of competition, the U.S. Team needed only three points to tie Russia 2 and managed to post a score of 280 to secure the silver medal. Russia 1 won five of the seven rounds, posting perfect 300s.
As the competition concluded, competitors met at the Hotel Tennis Club, where the top 10 finishers received certificates honoring their achievement (including Amber Forte from Norway, the first female athlete to earn that honor). Competitors from the U.S. in the top 10 also included veteran team members Ridler (fourth), Galda (fifth) and Mickle (seventh).
With no current bids for the 2019 FAI World Cup of Wingsuit Flying, U.S. competitors are currently setting their sights on the 2020 FAI World Parachuting Championships Mondial in Tanay, Siberia.