First winter Worlds underway

The 4th FAI World Paragliding Accuracy Championship, in Trakai, Lithuania is well underway, and with three rounds flown, can be validated. With 69 pilots, including 9 women, from 14 countries, the competition is the first FAI event to be held in winter, and will mark the first womens’ championship in this discipline. The opening ceremony took place on Friday 9th February, with the charismatic Competition Director and general organiser, Violeta Grigoraitiene in charge. Local dignitaries included the Mayor of Trakai, the Lithuanian Government Minister for Sport and the President of the Lithuanian HG & PG Federation. Violeta is justly proud that this event will also feature the first Womens’ World Championships in Paragliding Accuracy. She is disappointed only that she cannot also compete! During the proceedings, Lithuanian dancers gave a splendid performance, dancing between the teams of pilots, each standing by their national flags. The FAI flag was raised by the current World Champions, Slovenia, while the FAI anthem was played. The 4th FAI World Paragliding Accuracy Championships were declared open. The next highlight of the evening was the draw for team flying order. Violeta had prepared special pewter mugs, filled with the local beer. Each team leader was asked to choose a mug and drain it to reveal the team number engraved on the base. This determines the flying order of the 69 registered pilots (including 9 women) from 14 countries. Friday was a training day, which was held on the reserve site, a nearby airfield, as officials were still checking the thickness of the ice on Lake Galves, the preferred flying site. Another FAI first, is that we believe this is the first airsport World Championship to take place in true winter. Paragliding Accuracy is not dependent on thermic conditions, requiring only light winds and a suitable launch point (hill or winch) and a landing field for the electronic target. Saturday 10th February – Day 1 Pilots from warm countries, were prepared for the cold, but maybe not –11C! The forecast was for sunshine and light winds, and the lake was now well and truly frozen to a depth of 20cm. The competition would take place on the frozen lake today. The general pilot and safety briefing started at 8am, and after introductions by Violeta of her key team members, the Safety Director gave a very clear briefing of how the winch lines would work, and repeated the strict rules on turn direction when pilots released from the winch line. Pilot members were elected to join the safety committee. Transport was organised. We were off! The flying site is truly beautiful, with the village of Trakai, the lake and the islands dominated by the picturesque castle. Tourists and locals were out strolling in the sunshine and sitting in the shoreside cafes watching proceedings. The practice round took two hours to complete, with some pilots on fine form and receiving good scores. Most were nervous about slipping on the icy surface though, both at launch and on landing. But the target was carpeted which proved effective. The first round of the Championships started in earnest. Standards were high, set initially by Slovenia’s former World Champion, Matjaz Feraric, scoring a dead centre (0cm), followed swiftly by team mate, Franc Unuk with 2cm. 3cm scores were recorded for Sergejs Samuilovs of Latvia, Petrovic Zoran of Serbia and Tzolov Tzvetan of Bulgaria. In fact no fewer than 20 pilots representing 10 of the 14 countries participating, were awarded pad scores (15cm or better). The leading woman after the first round was Marketa Tomaskova of Czech Republic with a very respectable 38cm, and placed 24th overall. Team rankings (best four scores) showed Czech Republic leading over UK in second place, followed by Lithuania. Slovenia, world champions since 2003, were in 5th place, despite holding first and second individual positions. Hot tea and coffee were available all day, and hot soup and food arrived mid afternoon. There was lots of stamping of feet as the cold gradually seeped through even the thickest soled boots. Gradually we were beginning to recognise each other, all bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, by the colour and style of hats and flying suits! The day was marred, sadly, by an accident, when Serbian pilot, Djordje Petrovic, stalled his canopy while approaching the target. The medical team arrived very swiftly and he was transferred to the local hospital. He suffered a broken arm, fractured vertebra and whiplash, but was able to return to the HQ hotel by the evening. Sunday 11th February – Day 2 And we thought yesterday was cold! Today it was –20C at 9am. Steward, Riikka Vilkuna – hailing from Finland she is familiar with such temperatures – had already suggested the organisers do not operate below –15C. Luckily, it was sunny again, and by 10.30 the day had warmed to a respectable –12C. Round 2 started just after midday. With virtually nil wind, and only slight puffs from any direction, the winch launches required a strong forward launch by pilots and careful control from the operators. Scoring standards were once again very high, with 24 pilots gaining pad scores. The best scores of the round were recorded for Andy Shaw, Nick Simmons and Tony Blacker of the UK, plus Kerin Rafael of Slovenia all with 5cm, and Michals Snaiberg of Czech Republic and Kiro Ginoski of Macedonia with 3cm. Leading woman, Marketa Tomaskova (Czech Republic) also scored well with 23cm, increasing her lead. Round 3 was started immediately after, and pilots grabbed their hot soup, food and tea between flights. Flying conditions were perfect as the sun warmed the air and a steady light breeze set in. Three pilots scored a dead centre (0cm), Tzvetan Tzolov from Bulgaria, plus Andy Webster and Nick Simmons from the UK. Tadas Sidaravicius from Lithuania scored 2cm, Kamil Konecny from Czech Republic took 3cm, while Foruk Bozkurt from Turkey and Slovenia’s Kerin both scored 5cm. In the women’s championship, Latvian Irinia Avane took a respectable 49cm. On the leader board, Andy Webster (UK) has just taken top position from Czech pilot Libor Jirousek, with Tzvetan Tzolov from Bulgaria in 3rd. Frank Unuk is leading Slovenian pilot in 4th, with Turkish pilot, Abdullah Yildiz in 5th. Hot favourite for World Champion, Matjaz Feraric is in joint sixth place with Vitalis Bogdanovicius of Lithuania. It is interesting to see that 8 countries are represented in the top 10 after 3 rounds. Czech pilot Marketa still leads the women’s championship, in 27th place overall. The team ranking has changed dramatically, though Czech Republic is still in first place, Slovenia has jumped to 2nd, and UK has slipped to third. Home team, Lithuania is content in 4th place. The difficult winching conditions led to a couple of incidents, fortunately not serious today. The Safety Committee met to analyse the issues. While some pilots were less experienced in winching than others, which exacerbated problems in the extreme cold, still air, it was remarked that certain glider types, and older gliders seemed more liable than others to drop back into stall in these wintry conditions. Judges were also concerned about some pilots misjudging the light winds, approaching the target fast and braking hard and in some cases too close to stall for comfort. Chief Judge, Andy Cowley warned pilots that this constituted dangerous flying and repeated offences will be penalised. A re-launch awarded to one UK pilot proved highly contentious. A complaint was submitted by a group of team leaders. The chief Judge and event Judge reviewed video evidence that was made available and reversed their decision.