Day four of the competition and the weather forecast was for cloud and southerly winds increasing during the day to reach 6m/s by the afternoon.
This was a little too windy for the tasks first planned by the Competition Director, but the decision was taken to start Precision Take-offs and Landings in the hope that the wind did not follow the predictions. Sadly this was not the case and the task was stopped shortly afterwards.
It was back to the briefing room for details of the alternative task; a second ‘Economy and Distance’ but this time with only one litre of fuel per pilot. Team leaders returned to their tents and prepared for what was to be the final economy task and the one that would determine the first of the gold medals. Who could have guessed at this stage just what drama was in store?
The lead in the Economy class was shared equally by MACAK (THA) and SHENG (CHN) with nothing between the two. This was the decider.
With pilots taking off in reverse order, the leaders were yet to get going as the early competitors landed. Then it was time for the medal contenders to begin their battle. Sheng was first to take to the air but Macak was only a few minutes behind and chose to catch his opponent up. There was the extraordinary sight of the two leaders shadowing each other, waiting for their opponent’s engine to start to falter. Lap followed lap with nothing between the two as the crowd watched with great fascination. Who was going to blink first?
Then – drama! Just as Macak turned past a pylon his engine stopped. He had no choice but to land immediately, meaning he could not get back to the official landing deck and therefore suffering a 5 point penalty in his score. Did this mean the medal belonged to the Chinese? Not yet! Sheng still had to make it to the next pylon and then land without falling over. The crowd grew noisy as some thought Sheng had already won, but it didn’t last long. His engine also fell silent. He was close to the landing deck – would he make it?
Sheng pulled hard on his control line and turned sharply. It was looking good, he flew towards the deck and then, finally, executed a clean landing inside the line. He’d done it – or had he? The scores still had to be verified and there followed a very tense period when Team Thailand compared notes, trying to work out who had scored the most.
Then the scoreboard lit up with the official result. Sheng had won and the landing had proved crucial. The media descended and the Chinese pilot was interviewed and photographed as the whole competition site cheered and shouted. What a race! What a result! This was sport in its most exciting form. Wow!