On Wednesday October 18th, eight of the world's best wingsuit jumpers gathered at the edge of Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, China to participate in the inaugural World Championships of the extreme sport. Originally scheduled to be held on the 13th, the event had to be delayed due to bad weather, a fact that did not seem to bother the contestants who all just wanted to soar in the skies!
Wearing their special 'birdman suits' each competitor leaped off the 1,400 meter (4,600 ft.) ledge one at a time and maneuvered the tricky route that required them to fly around an anchored Red Bull hot-air balloon, then straight down the Tianmen mountain and under a moving tramway cable to the 'finish line'. Their only goal? To fly as fast as they could to earn the coveted title of the World's First Wingsuit Champion.
South Africa's Julian Boulle dominated the day with a speedy descent time of 23.41 seconds. While that was pretty impressive, it was not as good as the 23.01 seconds it took him to complete the same course at the preliminaries that took place on Wednesday October 17th. Close on his heels was Norwegian flyer Espen Fadness with time of 23.55 seconds followed by Britain's James Boole who zipped in at 23.84 seconds.
The third place win was particularly sweet for the British athlete given that the professional skydiver had experienced a severe crash in 2008 when his parachute failed to open during a wingsuit flight over Kamchatka, Russia, resulting in a broken back, cracked rib and a bruised lung. Forced to wear a body brace for three months, he had thought he would never be able to jump again.
Missing from the roster of winners or even finalists was world record holder and the person that is largely responsible for turning wingsuit diving into a mainstream extreme sport - Jeb Corliss, who injured his legs during the qualifying event the previous day and was unable to participate in the Thursday finals.
However, the fearless diver has already performed an even more daring stunt in the same area by flying through a narrow opening on the side of the Tianmen Mountain in 2011 and, there's always next year, when the organizers are promising to come up with an even more thrilling and tougher route - We for one, cannot wait!
Resources: Chinadaily.com, telegraph.co.uk, dailymail.co.uk