The End of the Worlds

I am currently sitting at my sister’s place in Salt Spring Island in British Columbia (Canada) a few days after the event, reflecting on it all. As you can imagine, the last few days of the competition became very busy and we were all walking zombies by the end of it all.

First let me tell you about the last couple of days, then I will go into some of my overall thoughts.

We had two more flights after my last post. Thursday afternoon was a bit of a tragedy. It was two pilot declared goals, and we hedged our bets on the wind backing before sunset. Unfortunately (even though our pibals showed it was) it didn’t and we completely missed both goals. So we only ended up with about 650 points in total for those tasks.

Thursday Afternoon

Friday morning was the last competition flight. We went to the briefing expecting them to can the flight because there were fast winds at just a few hundred feet. However the weather guy predicted a strong, thin inversion layer and David Levin called a Fly In and two Hesitation Waltzes. This was a fun flight, because we ended up doing about 35km at about 300 feet, but in the bottom layer it was completely still. On the first goal, my 7m result on got me 500 points. On the second I did a week throw and got about 10 metres, which only gave me 400 points. On the last target, the ground wind shifted and screwed a lot of the field (self-included) and I missed the target by 170 metres (370 points).

Friday Morning

So with very average results, I knew I was going to slide down the rankings significantly.

With the flying over, we spent the rest of Friday emptying and purging tanks, cleaning the gear for Australian Quarantine and rebuilding the van. Sean, Deano, Matt and I then headed over to Detroit Airport and packed off the balloons to send home to Australia.

Cleaning and Packing the Gear

Due to a suspension in the scoring times, the final results were not posted until 8am Saturday morning. Just to add some last minute excitement, when I looked at the results I was in 64th position and they had applied a 500 point penalty to Friday’s flight for Mid Air Collision. I had not touched anyone, so Sean and I charged into the competition centre with our in-flight video to prove our case. After about 20 minutes, the scoring team realised they had given me someone else’s penalty and I got my 500 points back. I ended up moving back up to 55th position.

Matt ended up in 10th position. He had a similar morning to me on Friday morning, but still managed to hang in the top 10. This is a great result for Matt considering it is only his 4th competition that he has flown and many of the tasks (Elbow and Land Run) were tasks he had never flown before.

The final results were as follows:

1 DONNER, Nick  USA  24030
2 PETREHN, Johnny  USA  23423
3 FUJITA, Yudai  JPN  23423
4 DONNER, Chase  USA  22508
5 SCHNEIDER, Uwe  GER  22229
6 SCHWARTZ, Nicolas  FRA  22125
7 BLOOM, Cory  USA  22063
8 LATYPOV, Sergey  RUS  22053
9 ZEBERLI, Stefan  SUI  21852
10 SCAIFE, Matthew  AUS  21849
55 ROBERTSON, Andrew  AUS  15918
87 WRIGHT, Peter  AUS  11001

On Saturday afternoon was the closing ceremony. Unfortunately Matt, who never imagined he would do so well, had to head over to Chicago before it started, so I had to get up on to stage with the top 10 as his proxy. So we managed to get to wave the Australian flag for the first time since 2004.

The Top Ten

So then it was all over as fast as it started. There were plenty of highlights of the week and a couple of learnings (lowlights). Here is a brief overview of them:

Highlights:

  1. The three Australian teams worked really well together as an Australian Team. Getting together at the start of the week and discussing how we would work together and being completely open with everyone was incredibly valuable. At no point was there tension or problems. Having spent the weekend in Canowindra together also helped us all work out how each other operated and flew.
  2. Team Robbo worked really well together. Everyone got on really well and whilst we were exhausted by the end of the week, spirits were high and everyone had a good time.
  3. I won a task. This was one of my big goals for the week. My 15 minutes of glory. Not only that, I also had 4 tasks in the 900s. This might not sound like much, but considering the calibre of the competitors, I am pretty proud of this. Considering there were tasks that 4 metre results would only give you 500 points.
  4. All our planning for tasks was spot on (except for Thursday night). We went into the flights having made the right decisions and all our launch sites and pilot declared goals were spot the right ones. This is so important because setting up a flight correctly means you can just focus on flying the plan rather than fighting your way back or changing things mid-flight.
  5. Logistically everything worked. Logistics can be a nightmare for an event like this. Getting the gear over there and getting gear organised when you arrive can be pretty stressful. Being organised early was such a big factor in this. I knew that I would be flat out with work before the event, so having most of the stuff organised a month out paid off.
  6. James did really well. A week of little sleep and sporadic eating is tough on an adult, let alone a 9 year old. He did not complain all week and had a lot of fun. The entire team was very proud of him and enjoyed having him around.
  7. We had a lot of fun. The team dynamic was so good that it allowed us to be serious when required but have some fun for the rest of the time.

Learnings:

  1. I didn’t make it into the top half of the field. Now that the event is over, I can share my goals :-). The dream was top 20, but the realistic goal was to be in the top half (top 50). So I was only a bit short of this, but I am not too worried about it. Considering the amount of flying others do and the lack of I flying I do, I am pretty happy. There are some pretty significant names below me in the list (including past World Champions) so I have to be happy about.
  2. I really need to work on my final 50 metres when approaching targets. Probably half my results could have been better if I had either come down lower, picked the ground wind better or made a better throw. In competitions in Australia, a result under 10 metres will normally get you 800 plus points. At a Worlds, it will only get you 400 points. You need to be consistently sub 2 metres.  This has to become the focus of my training now. I have proven I can get near a target consistently, now I need to focus on the final approach.

One of the big things that came out of the week was that the entire team agreed we need to do more competition training. We all agreed that we are able to get in and compete against the best of the World, but we just don’t get enough practice in Australia. The grand plan is that we are going to organise half a dozen weekends over the course of the year where we run competition weekends (similar to what we did at Canowindra). If we want to be competitive on the World stage, then we need more competition practice.

There you go. That was the 2012 FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championships. Now it is time to spend the rest of the week catching up on sleep and eating in Canada.

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