Did you know you can try BASE with a tandem jump?
How can I rationalize this fire, that’s in my chest now burning?
The need to win at any cost, and then my private yearning
For world acclaim, to know my name brings instant recognition
To go afield, to hang one’s shield, the Call of competition.
Why must it cost my sleep at night, and cheerful peace of mind?
Why am I desperately concerned to find myself behind?
Where is the noble selflessness the Greeks were famous for?
I’d sell my soul, disown a friend, if it would help my score.
What of the opposition, does he know more than I?
Has he any limitation on just how hard he’ll try?
Does he worry that his bones may break and muscle surely bruise?
Or does he fear far more than that, that he may even lose?
What motivates the other man, is it the same as I?
The wish to join a culled elite, Valhalla of the sky
Perhaps he is just what he seems, behind his easy grin
An exercise in dedication, with unswerving will to win.
After becoming the 2014 World Champions with Hayabusa, I had to make one of the hardest decisions in my life. I had to choose if I wanted to stay in the team, and continue to defend our title, or if I would leave the team and accept new challenges in life. I made the final call in October that same year, that I would leave my team.
The moment you stop dreaming, it’s the moment you stop living
For many people it’s very difficult to understand that I chose myself, while Hayabusa was right on top of the world. Having everything you need; full sponsorship, money for training, salary, very talented teammates, fans, traveling around the world and guaranteed medals at every competition you show up…
From all the great things that I experienced during my 13-year career as a Hayabusa member, the thing that stands out, that I miss the most, is the thrill of competing! I can say that I am a competitor ‘pur sang’, it’s in my blood. The sensation it gives me is simply addictive. I like, and need, being in a competitive environment. The feeling of total focus and commitment, where the world around you seems to disappear. Feeling your heart rate go up, that familiar feeling in your stomach, just before exiting the plane, or entering the tunnel… The moment of total calmness just when your foot leaves the door… The high intensity during flight, flying your heart out, and the relief at break-off. Great battles against other teams and the satisfaction of achieving your goals. The mental dialogs with yourself and sharing emotions with your friends. The sweet taste of a victory…
And for all these reasons, and many more, I came back to the Clash of Champions in Dubai. The Call of Competition brought me back to my beloved arena, competing against some of the best flyers in the world.
Once you stop competing at the highest level, it’s hard to find other flyers that can challenge you during training. The people who can, usually are already competing themselves in other (professional) teams. Luckily enough, there were three other guys that were up for the same challenge as me. My new teammates were my longtime rivals from the French National team (Julien Degen, Mathieu Bernier and Guillaume Bernier). All of them are (ex) World Champions in 4 and 8-way. After 13 years of battling against each other, we now teamed up to join forces.
When we started making plans to compete at the Clash of Champions, we first had to see how much time we could train and what our objective would be. Eventually the plan was to do 2 hours of training before going to Dubai, and 1 hour just before the competition kicked off. We knew that we had to get the maximum out of every training session, in order to have a chance to get on the podium. It would be a big challenge, but isn’t this what it’s all about?
On paper our line-up seemed to be promising, but as we’ve seen many times in the past, putting 4 experienced flyers together doesn’t automatically make them a successful team. It’s not until you stop competing with your own team that you realize, when you fly with others, that many things are not there. Grips, communication, energy, speed, keys and block technique can change quite a bit from team to team. We knew in advance that, in the absence of flying at a top level for more than a year, getting back up to speed would be challenging. It turned out that the mind was still ready to go, but the body didn’t always follow the orders.
Coming from different schools, Hayabusa vs French, we had to find compromises in technique and adapt quickly to each other’s flying style. Guillaume and I had always flown the tail slot, so we had to choose who would start as inside-center. I volunteered and we would see how it goes. Since the beginning, the team felt in a very good balance in this set-up, and we didn’t even try to change it afterwards.
When you’re going for your 'mission impossible', there’s no other option than to try to get the maximum out of each flight, especially if your prep time is limited. Here a few suggestions that I recommend keeping in mind, that can help you in succeeding your task. These can be applied at any level and with every team.
Don’t listen to the naysayers. How may times have you heard that you can’t do this, and you can’t do that. It’s not that the perception of someone else has to become your reality! First of all, you need to believe that it’s possible. If you really believe it, you can do it!
It’s impossible to be a maverick or a true original, if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break some of the rules. I love it when people tell me ‘it can’t be done’, because when I do, I am the first one to achieve it. Set new standards and open new possibilities for others.
I love it when people tell me ‘it can’t be done’, because when I do, I am the first one to achieve it
Try to look at your training from a different perspective. Find new ways that can help to improve your skills. Brainstorm together, be open-minded for new ideas and listen to each other, be willing to compromise.
Everything I’ve ever attempted, I was always willing to fail. You can’t always win but don’t be afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you’ll never push yourself to the limit, and beyond. Keep pushing and believing yourself, and success will come.
There is no way around it, than to work your butt off. Leave no stone unturned. If you don’t work hard, someone else will, and they’re getting smarter. Hard work starts in your (pre) training, not on competition day. There are no shortcuts to success – you should train as you fight.
Because we had ambitious plans, trying to get on the podium, we worked very hard from the first till the last minute. We knew that for us, every block of 15 minutes training would make a difference in performance. We knew that if we would work hard now, the reward would come later.
When we arrived at Inflight Dubai for our last hour of training, the vibe in the team changed from normal training mode, to a light competition mode. Being on site, and seeing your opponents train, helps to get the mind in the right zone. The closer we got towards the end of our final training, the more we got into full competition mode. It’s very important to get the mind, at the right moment, ready for peak performance.
During our training we had shown some real good performance, but the real challenge would be, to be consistent throughout the 10 rounds, and to keep it together. You can be great in training, but it doesn’t mean anything if you cannot back it up with a meet. We knew from the start that consistency would be the key factor for success.
Until this point we didn’t do any draw and we didn’t compare us with anyone else. We were simply too busy getting used to each other and working through our progression. Our only goal was to try to stay close to the top contenders, and we didn’t even know how close that would be.
Honestly, speaking for myself, I felt more nervous for this meet then I normally felt with Hayabusa. Even if there was no expectation or pressure from outside, because we always could say, we didn’t train. Was I more nervous because I didn’t compete at a high level against the best teams in the world for one year? Yes for sure. Did the challenge of flying the unfamiliar inside-center slot at high level make me more nervous? Yes, in some rounds it did. And dammit, we are all world champions, of course we wanted to prove something!
After the official training round was done, the draw was handed out and we started prepping the meet rounds. The whole routine of the competition and briefing felt so normal, as if I was jumping with these guys my whole life. For sure all our experience helped a lot, but nevertheless, the team clicked. That’s something you cannot duplicate or buy, it’s there, or it isn’t.
Round 1 is always a bit special. It’s where usually you feel a bit more nervous, and this time it was no exception. I guess it has also to do with the fact that we didn’t know where we stood compare to Hayabusa and Airspeed. They are very strong and experience teams, and it ain’t fun to get your ass kicked!
Stepping into the flying chamber, waiting for our turn to show what we got, you get that feeling that you only feel during competition. Everyone deals with this pressure differently, and has his own kind of ritual. Personally I think that there are many different ways of dealing with it, and whatever works for you, is good. I think it’s all about being able to put that competition pressure into something positive. Generally, experienced teams always perform better during competition, than in training. That pressure gives you something extra, and makes you fly at a higher level.
Round one was done, stepping out the tunnel with an okay feeling, but for sure not a great feeling. Still too many little hiccups. Well, let’s wait for the scores and take it from there…
After the judging we found ourselves in a better position than expected. One point ahead of Hayabusa, and one point behind Airspeed. On its own, every time you beat Hayabusa or Airspeed, feels like a little victory. Of course, we knew that it was a good start, but the way was still very long. Compared to a professional team that trains for years, you know that sooner or later, you will lose ground. It’s more a matter of damage control. But whatever would happen, we would not go down without a fight!
Day one was done, four rounds in the bag. Result was that we outscored Hayabusa in two rounds, and had a tied high score together with them… Talk about a dream start!
During day two, the inevitable happened; in round 7 we got our ass kicked by 6 points from my former teammates, lost connection for gold right there. But again, we showed some good stuff during these four rounds. We tied once Hayabusa, we tied once Airspeed and we had the tied high score together with Hayabusa and Airspeed! Being all competitors, we thought more about the lost of points, then equaling the best teams in the world.
Last day; in the semi-final round we expected to post a higher score than we did. Again we got our ass kicked hard, now 7 points behind Hayabusa. But what’s done is done, you can only look forward. We were determined to finish off strong in the final round. We did our last round just before Airspeed and Hayabusa. Watching both of the teams flying life from outside the tunnel, the speed looked incredible. You really could see they were smoking it! Respect.
Round 10 was judged; our score was two points more than Airspeed, and one point behind Hayabusa. For me personally, I feel very happy with that last round. Yes we lost one point (due to a bust) to Belgium, but after seeing them fly, I was impressed by their performance. Knowing we had the same pace makes me proud and excited.
Our overall performance over ten rounds, with 3 hours of training, competing against the very best teams in the world, gave this result;
• We outscored Hayabusa two times, and equalled them once
• We outscored Airspeed once and equalled them once.
• We tied the highest score with Hayabusa and Airspeed twice.
If you just look at numbers, and compare our training time with the top contenders, then (sorry to sound arrogant) I think we did a real great job. Were we close to a gold medal? No for sure not, we missed consistency and experience together as a team. But just being able to outscore them in several rounds and set tied high scores, is an achievement on its own. But my point is not about how well we did; it’s about showing you that if you train really hard, and when you put all your belief into it, you can achieve amazing things! It is possible!
Make sure to never give up on your dreams. Dare to dream, and let no-one stop you from doing this. The moment you stop dreaming, it’s the moment you stop living.
Go out and compete!
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