The 2011 Paragliding World Championships kicks off today, Sunday 3 July, in Spain’s legendary Piedrahita. 46 nations have amassed 150 of the world’s best paraglider pilots to battle it out for the ultimate title in the sport.
Time for a quick pre-battle roundup of who’s here and what they’re flying.
Unsurprisingly given recent trends, it’s going to be an Ozone fest with 76 pilots, over half the field, on two line R10s and R11s.
In a distant second place numbers-wise is Gin Gliders fielding 28 Boomerang 8s, spear-headed by the man himself, Gin Seok Song, flying for the Korean team. [Unconfirmed news is that we think Gin has flown in every World Championships since they began back in the late 80’s. Legend!]
Even Niviuk who have long been contending for supremacy in competition wing design have only a lowly 11 Icepeak 5s on show. UP, Axis, Gradient, Swing and Sol have but a handful of pilots on their wings.
Advance, long-standing masters of competition wing design who dominated the top end of ladder for almost a decade with a small selection of phenomenal wings being flown by the most capable hands, have only a solitary serial class Omega 8 to carry their memory.
As notable in their absence as Advance’s gliders are are the great pilots who once flew them. Chrigel Maurer has all but retired from the comp scene despite never quite cracking the World Championships nut; his efforts are now entirely focused on the Red Bull X-Alps which starts the day after the World Championships finish. Shame though, as we’d have loved it if Chrigel could have popped over to Spain, scooped that final piece of silverware that his trophy cabinet is still missing – he’s got three World Cup crowns, a European Championship and a Red Bull X-Alps title to his name already – and still made it back to knock off his second Red Bull X-Alps title in late August.
The current World Champion Andy Aebi is also sadly missing. His absence continues a strange trend of pilots winning the World Championships and then fading away. Neither of the last three World Champions have returned to defend their titles. 2005 Champion Steve Cox controversially failed to be selected by the Swiss team to defend the title he won in Brazil; Bruce Goldsmith then won in 2007 in Australia, inspiring him to bring to an end a long career in competitions to “go in search of other challenges.” Now the 2009 World Champion Andy Aebi is conspicuous in his absence from the Swiss team. Nevertheless it still comprises some big guns, just reduced in numbers to four, none of whom are on Advance wings. It seems the domination of top end competition paragliding by the ice-cool Swiss has come to an end. How times change…
Instead it’s the turn of the ever-passionate French to be the only nation to have enough FAI ranking points to field a full team of six. Spain has a healthy five, whilst the rest, including the Swiss, bring either four, three or two. Greece and Indonesia have but a man each.
So who’s your money on then?
There’s a bevy of big names up for a shot at the title. Switzerland’s Stefan Wyss? France’s Jean-Marc Caron? Or any of the current Ozone factory team of Luc Armant (FR), Russell Ogden (GB) or Charles Cazaux (FR) are in with a chance, and you can never discount an old hand like Luca Donini (IT) or Torsten Siegel (DE) punching high in an event like this.
The Americans have made great headway in recent years and all are capable of winning tasks, if not comps, and then you’d always have to take a bet on either of Slovenia’s Valic brothers getting on the podium.
It’s all up for grabs, with a flyable forecast ahead of us and 150 of the world’s best paraglider pilots chomping at the bit. Stay tuned for the news as it happens.
Who’s going to win the 2011 Paragliding World Championships? Let us know in the comments section who you’ve got your money on…
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