03 Aug 2022

The World Games 2022: Best placed women in air sports

The World Games 2022 took place in Birmingham, Alabama, USA in July 2022, and featured two air sports: Canopy Piloting, and for the first time ever, Drone Racing. Both competitions were mixed, with male and female pilots competing against one another.

To celebrate the achievements of female athletes in air sports, we caught up with Cornelia Mihai (UAE) who took 7th place in Canopy Piloting, and Thailand's Wanraya Wannapong who was the highest placed female in the Drone Racing competition in 10th place.

Cornelia Mihai canopy pilot 2022
Picture of Cornelia Mihai, Canopy Pilot. Credit (and header): Javier Buzz Ortiz

Cornelia Mihai: Canopy Pilot

Canopy Piloting first featured at The World Games in 2005 in Germany and Mihai’s first TWG was 2013 in Cali, Colombia.  In 2022, there were 34 canopy pilots in total and Mihai was one of three female pilots.

How did it feel to be participating at The World Games again, and how was the set up this year?

TWG is a fantastic event and you can only truly understand what I am talking about when you arrive. As skydivers we are used to competing on airfields and we are usually alone there, with no other athletes from different sports. Being in Birmingham with everyone else in the campus was brilliant. I truly felt like an athlete and it's great to get to know people as passionate as us but in different sports. The opening ceremony delights everyone. I still remember the feeling from Cali, Colombia in 2013... I felt like an Olympian!

The venue - Barber Motorsports Park - was also really good. I think it was way more difficult and restrictive than in Poland 2017 because of the surrounding trees, but in the end, we were selected to participate so I was sure everybody would handle it accordingly. It was exciting to see how many spectators we had and apparently everybody was impressed and loved our sport. It would great to be able to organize more competitions on venues like this... closer to the cities, closer to the people.

What tricks did you do, what were you pleased with about your performance this year? Did you try anything new?

The freestyle rules were pretty restrictive as well this year (changed slightly from Poland, so we didn't have so much freedom), because the judges were trying to offer a better structured and objective freestyle judging. I had to adapt my tricks to the requirements, so the first 2 rounds I actually chose some tricks that I don't usually do (‘can-can’ - pictured in the header image - and ‘boomerang’) and I was a bit disappointed with my performance in the 3rd round  (‘cowboy - superman combo’) because I didn't manage to do one of my tricks (I can blame it on the trees that were in the way of my approach, but in the end I think that's just an excuse... I could've done better!)

What have been your major career highlights since the last TWG? And what is your next competition this season?

  • Silver Medal Overall - 9th FAI World Cup of Canopy Piloting - Dubai, UAE
  • 3rd place - FAI Swoop Freestyle World Championships - 2018 - San Diego, USA
  • Bronze Medal Overall - 2021 (2020) FAI World Parachuting Championships - Mondial - Tanay, Russia
  • Bronze Medal Overall - 6th Dubai International Parachuting Championships - Dubai, UAE 2021

I was recently in Ravenna, Italy, participating at the Italian Nationals. Afterwards I will go to Denmark and Czech Republic and later on, in October, I will participate at the 9th FAI World Canopy Piloting Championships in Eloy, Arizona USA.

There were three females competing in the canopy piloting this year, have you seen more women enter the sport and what are your thoughts on female participation?

I do see more women that are better at swooping but unfortunately, I don't see a lot of them interested in competing and I am not sure what the reason is behind it. I think many don't have the confidence to believe they could do it, so maybe we could publicise competitions more... I know the few of us that are competing are quite an influence on other women in the sport, so all I can do is tell them: "Come and join us, you might like this sport more than you think and you can surprise yourself - and the men ;)"

Nevertheless... I admit, it is quite a hard sport. We sometimes have hard landings trying to score better and we generally have smelly shoes (from the pond water!), but it's so challenging and so technical that it's never boring!

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Wanraya Wannapong drone racer
Wanraya Wannapong at The World Games 2022. Image credit, Bruno Delor

Wanraya Wannapong: Drone Pilot

Drone Racing is a new sport for The World Games and there were nine female pilots competing in this mixed contest, out of 31 competitors in total. Despite her young age (14), Wannapong is well known in the drone racing community as she was FAI World Drone Racing Champion 2018 and 2019.

How did it feel to be participating in The World Games, as it is the first time that drone racing has been part of this multi-sport event?

I'm glad to have the opportunity to participate in The World Game this time.

How was your performance in the competition, were you happy? And could you tell us about the model of your drone, please?

Of course, I'm happy because it's what I like.  And I met my friends who were racing too. The components in my drone include AstroX, Motor, Tbs, Foxeer, Gemfan and Tattu.

What is your next competition this season?
The next race in South Korea.

There were ten females competing: in the drone racing this year, have you seen more women enter the sport since you started?

When I competed for the first time, there were no women in the competition.

That’s a big increase, exciting news for the drone racing community!

Wanraya Wannapong's titles:

  • Female FAI World Drone Racing Champion 2018 
  • Female FAI World Drone Racing Champion 2019
  • Overall winner 2018 China Drone Racing Open

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Female drone racing pilots TWG2022
Female drone racing pilots at The World Games 2022. Image: Bruno Delor