The dozens of pilots in Pemberton for the Canadian National Paragliding Championships will be looking to put Monday’s (Aug. 6) tragedy behind them and continue on with what organizers are describing as an otherwise great competition so far.
Co-organizer Nigel Protter said Tuesday (Aug. 7) that competitor Samson Danniels, a local Winter X Games gold medallist who is paralyzed from the armpits down from a mountain bike crash, gave a “sobering” talk to fellow pilots in response to Monday’s fatal accident.
“He gave us a good talk today about the spirit of competition, the acceptance of risk and what the consequences can be,” said Protter. “He does that all the time and I think it was good and sobering for people.
“It’s the game we play, it’s what we love to do and we’re not stopping… We plan to end it on a high note.”
Meanwhile, the pilots on hand for the event have been giving positive feedback about the biggest flying competition Pemberton’s ever hosted.
“People are loving the flying here, it’s competitive and the races are going well,” said Protter. “It’s our first – not everything’s going like we’ve been doing this 20 years. But, generally speaking, people think we’re doing a great job and it’s nice to hear that in light of all the bad luck we’ve been having here.”
Two tasks, or race stages, have been completed since the event officially got underway on Sunday (Aug. 5) and the hope is that four more tasks can be completed after racing resumes today (Thursday, Aug. 9).
Racing was called off Tuesday out of respect to accident victim John Clifford, as is customary when tragedy strikes at paragliding competitions. Hazardous weather conditions were expected to keep pilots on the ground Wednesday (Aug. 8) as well.
Tasks are set each day after taking weather and other factors into account and pilots compete in a race to the finish goal, or landing point, after reaching checkpoints in the air. A task victory is worth a maximum of 1,000 points and point totals will be tabulated at the end of the competition to determine the top finishers.
After the first couple of days, some of the leaders are world-class pilots who organizers expected to contend for top placings.
At the end of two tasks, Vancouver’s Frederic Bourgault holds the overall lead at 1.953 points. Bourgault was the third-place finisher in Sunday’s 63-kilometre task and was fastest to goal during Monday’s 47-km race, clocking in at one hour, 20 minutes, 35 seconds.
Just 33 points back in second place is French pilot Denis Cortella, winner of Sunday’s task and the runner-up behind Bourgault on Monday, while New Zealand’s Matt Senior is right up there in third place after two days with a score of 1,907.
Vancouver’s Nicole McLearn is well out in front among all female pilots and sits 10th overall after two tasks at 1,467.
But with the standings being so tight and with a number of tasks yet to come, it’s entirely possible that a different crop of pilots is atop the leaderboard by the time nationals wrap up. Protter said each pilot brings their own flying style and equipment to competition and the goal is to assemble a series of tasks that make the playing field as level as possible.
“You want to create tasks that give every style of flying and every style of wing some advantage at some point so that it all evens out and, ultimately, you end up with the best overall pilot,” said Protter.
Race information and results are being posted to www.paraglidenationals.com throughout the competition.