The weather Gods looked kindly upon us for the spectacular final day of the helicopter events. There was great tension among the local crowd who had come to watch; would the Italian crew maintain its position in the midst of the more highly experienced and medal-winning Russian crews? In short, yes; the Italians were able to celebrate great success and managed to secure themselves a podium place.
The two MI-2s met in the first of the two semi-finals with the Russians Viktor Korotaev/Nikolay Burov pitted against the female crew of Lyudmila Kosenkova and Elena Prokofyeva. The second semi-final saw the third Russian crew of Elena Zhuperina/Georgy Arbuzov compete against the Italians, Pierluigi Barbero/Luigi Marocco.
The story after the first round - Parallel Fender Rigging - was unexpected; the Russians Zhuperina/Arbuzov, who had won the fewest titles coming into the event, made the most of the opportunity and stepped out of the shadows to take first place, only 3 points ahead of the current world champions, Korotaev/Burov. Italy missed out on second by one point with the other Russian crew coming fourth.
The tables were turned in the next event – Parallel Slalom. In a nail-biting duel, Korotaev/Burov showed their prowess and took first place by four points, ahead of Zhuperina/Arbuzov. Russia were still in front, even though first and second had switched places. The same was to happen in third and fourth; the Italians slipped back with Kosenkova/Prokofyeva moving up.
The rules stated that the results from the two events should be added together to produce the pairing for the final; this was to be Russia (Korotaev/Burov) against Russia (Zhuperina/Arbuzov) – a "David versus Goliath" contest. Elena Zhuperina, David in this scenario, had nothing left to lose and had already scratched Goliath’s skin in the lead-up to this final. She was guaranteed a silver medal and could give it her all in the last round.
Once the semi-final results had been collated the bronze medal winners were decided: Italy with Barbero/Marocco, giving joy to the Italian spectators who celebrated with frantic cheers. The female crew of Kosenkova/Prokofyeva were therefore relegated to fourth, but in a subsequent interview, Lyudmila laughed amicably and declared; NO problem, NEXT time, this is helicopter sport! She too was a winner through losing gracefully.
The excitement grew at the prospect of an all Russian final: Korotaev/Burov had the calm and relaxed Elena Zhuperina breathing down their necks. Could the world champions take the pressure of being favorite or would nerves play a role?
The first event – Slalom – created a perfectly timed surprise result; with great speed and pinpoint accuracy the „outsiders“ manoeuvred their R-44 around the course to take first spot by six points. "David" had defeated "Goliath" for the time being, Zhuperina was leading Korotaev.
What would become of the final race? Both the spectators as well as the other helicopter crews were about to be treated to a rare sight: The outstanding pairing of Korotaev/Burov drew upon all of their skills to fly a Fender – Rigging course as never flown before to the amazement of everyone watching. It was a master class, bringing them the maximum 300 points! A magnificent achievement, befitting of the favourites and one which guaranteed them first place.
The World Air Games proved to be a superb event from a competition and also a safety point of view – the Games remained accident free - thanks to the dedication of the crews, Judges and Officials of the LOC.
Mission completed - see you NEXT time!