If you are at least 1.95 metres tall and your first name started with the letter ‘A’, then you had a chance this year to compete for the title of Paragliding World Cup champion. If you are called Zoro or Zigur and are 1.55 metres short, then forget it! By Xavier Murrillo.
Two thousand and three was a battle between a big skinny Swiss pilot and a big skinny German pilot with a surprise at the end. In this story another Swiss pilot, Stephan Morgenthaler, was the “trouble-fête”.
At the end of the season with 16 tasks flown and 14 counting towards the World Cup, overall this meant only an average year if you were to look back 10 years, but a bad season for those with shorter memories. In the end the language to spoken on summit of the male podium was German, and for the female one, Czechoslovakian was the only option.
In March, in spite of a good last task straight over the hills of Japan, none of the eventual male winners performed particularly well. Stefan Morgenthaler came 23rd, Achim Joos 36th, and Alex Hofer 11th just ahead of Petra Krausova who came 15th.
Who would think these guys would make it to the final podium after such a poor start? In the top 20, Petra was in good company, or, rather, the 19 guys at the top were in good company.
At this early stage in the series her title in 2002 was looking like it had acted as big a kick in the ass for her. The message was clear, beware guys, Petras not afraid of you anymore!
In April, it was Crans-Montana in Switzerland. Unlike Japan, the organization wasn’t good but the thermals were powerful and the tough guys liked it. Stephan came second on the first task.
Alex won the second one 18 seconds in front of Achim, and came second in the third task behind Stephan Wyss (Stephan is Swiss of course).
But at the end, it was Stephan on the podium just behind Steve Cox who was looking very much back on form. Alex and Achim, in 6th and 7th, were not far behind.
Top woman, Petra, won, of all things, an electric oven. When you know her talent for cooking, that seemed like a prize in what you might call poor taste.
Hans Bollinger is one pilot who’ll take a while to forget this comp in his home country. He landed on a road way in the back of a valley, only to discover that the road was closed because of the snow, and he had to walk for a couple of hours. It’s a hard life, these guys have become so used to always being in goal that they’re no longer used to that kind of activity.
Kalavrita in Greece was certainly more relaxing. Because of the strong wind there were no tasks and no change in the rankings.
Paragliding World Cup 2003 – La Clusaz, France
La Clusaz in France was the place where lots of changes took place. Alex won two tasks out of three and, with a 500 point lead over Achim, took a firm grip on the final victory.
But he was a bit worried about the final at Reunion Island in the middle of Indian Ocean with its funny conditions. He kept asking, “How many tasks can we expect to fly there?”
“Quite a lot.” was the answer. And Alex didn’t like it. Only the time would tell whether he had reason to be worried.
Another strange thing happened in La Clusaz. After a couple of days of bad conditions, the comp moved to the Montmin take off, over beautiful Lake Annecy.
With strong winds and cloud none of the pilots believed the organizer’s claims that conditions were going to improve. Some pilots were so convinced there would be no task that they headed off to France’s south coast for some kite surfing.
Around 3 oclock, a miracle happened, the weather improved, and a 49 km race was called. Vincent Sprungli won with an incredibly fast time of one hour thirty five minutes, a full twelve minutes in front of second placed Hans Bollinger.
Three of the top Swiss pilots were missing and got a big fat zero for the task: Volker Nies, Bruno Arnold, not to mention Stephan Morgenthaler!
There are a lot of ways NOT to win the World Cup, but 2003 brought forth another possibility: go kite surfing! As we were soon to see, Stephan was not the only one for whom kite surfing would be their downfall.
In anticipation of the weak island conditions Alex spent some time in Mauritius training prior to the season’s climax in Reunion. As it turned out, conditions were even smoother than usual.
Alexs training might well have stood him in good stead were it not for the fact that his training was not paragliding, but in fact, kite surfing.
As a result he flew a mere 6.7 km on the first task, Achim did the same. Over the next five tasks, Alex finished in positions between 22nd and 71st, out of a total of 75 pilots.
Achim ranked between 15th and 39th. It was enough to take revenge for last years World championship where the German pilots were very unlucky beside a successful Alex Hofer.
The final task was a breathtaking display of Hitchcock-style suspense. Norman Lausch made goal at maximum excess speed, preventing the others from making many points.
For a while, Stephan, in second position, and four minutes behind, was the virtual World Cup champion, but Achim and Alex also made goal together, 20 minutes later.
This was enough for Achim to keep the lead he had just built up the day before, and not enough to stop Alex sliding down the coupon into third position.
Even worse for Alex, whilst the German team was dancing and celebrating, he crossed the goal line and landed in a tree!
For next year, we have this advice for all pilots wishing to win the Paragliding World Cup: avoid kite surfing at any time in advance of and during the competition!
1 Achim Joos Gradient Avax DEU 8720
2 Stephan Morgenthaler Gin Boomerang III CH 8617
3 Alex Hofer UP Targa CH 8588
4 Norman Lausch Gin Boomerang III DEU 8338
5 Bruno Arnold Gin Boomerang III CH 8297
1 Petra Krausova Mac Para Magus CZ 6165
2 Elizabeth Rauchenberger Gin Boomerang III CH 5773
3 Caroline Brille Advance Omega 6 F 4750
5 Czech Republic
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