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As I begin to write this I am sat in Brno airport at stupid o’clock in the morning on the return journey from my first World Championships in Prostejov. I am now looking forward to getting home and I am especially looking forward to a proper mug of tea. I am gonna go crazy and actually pour the boiling water directly onto the teabag!
I spent the first couple of days wandering around the dz a little bewildered, smiling, but feeling somewhat overwhelmed and quite frankly a bit of a fraud. Sure, I had qualified for the event, but was I really able to compete along with the best in the world? This was only my second ever competition competing in Freestyle. At least with my new sponsor logo'd up jumpsuit, rig and canopies I looked the part and blended in!
The atmosphere was great and the staff at drop zone Prostejov were friendly and helpful. I was glad to be a part of the largest delegation, so I had familiar faces from home. Plus, I think we had the largest delegation tent and certainly by far the most bunting. Amidst the smiles and high fives though was a palpable air of competition; everyone was here to get the job done.
The weather was unseasonably cold for the Czech Republic in August, I was so glad that I had packed a thermal layer ‘just in case’ and threw a beanie in my suitcase on a whim. We jumped through some icy clouds in the days running up to the first official training day. The Israeli Freestyle team Secret Santa were somewhat traumatized by the cold conditions at altitude! Although it wasn’t unfamiliar weather for us Brits, it was much colder than any of us had anticipated and even the Russians didn’t want to sit by the door. The sun was shining by the day of official practice rounds, t-shirt weather on the ground, but it remained cold at altitude.
It was very weird for me to meet some of the Freestyle teams that I had been stalking online for well over a year, watching as many freestyle videos on YouTube and Vimeo that I could find for help and inspiration. Freestyle has evolved a lot over the years from its conception in the late eighties… from the very controlled poses of the performers filmed mainly on the belly, freestyle has become much more dynamic, in line with freefly for both performer and videographer. Where once male and female performers were judged separately, both now compete together in the same category. The training advice I had been given is ‘learn to fly it first, then start to point your toes’
Round 1 Free
Round 2 Compulsory
Round 3 Free
Round 4 Free
Round 5 Compulsory
Round 6 Free (top eight teams only)
Round 7 Free (top eight teams only)
Scores in Freestyle are awarded for both technical difficulty and presentation. Five judges award marks, then the highest and lowest are discarded and the mean average is taken from the remaining three. There is a cut after round five and only the top eight teams jump rounds 6 and 7.
As an artistic event the judging is of course open to subjectivity, but the compulsory rounds are designed to address this. Each compulsory round contains four moves that can be performed in an order chosen by the team. The compulsory moves dictate what both the performer and videographer should do and what the judges expect to see to score highly. Marks are capped when a move isn’t performed to these exacting standards. Due to the difficulty of these moves and fall rate differences between them they are not drawn like belly FS; for this competition the moves have been known since April 2013.
In the free rounds teams perform their own choreographed routine, which of course allows more freedom of expression, but may not be to the judges' taste. Self-expression is where I guess the costumes can come into freestyle; some people choose to play a role and dress accordingly, others just choose to wear toe-pointable shoes.
Judging in the artistic disciplines can be harsh with medals won or lost by only a 0.1 score difference. Discussion at the artistic disciplines feedback meeting (that I missed because our delegation bus set on fire – no, really!) suggested perhaps having a compulsory round as either round 6 or 7, which could be drawn. This could possibly make the final results less inevitable, as most often rankings do not change much after round 2. I am unsure as to the answer, but I can see that it needs reviewing and revising.
The French teams have dominated the medals for years now. Akrobabylon and Solaris who took gold and silver respectively, who both have male performers, combine power, grace and amazing control in their routines. They also joined forces in a freefly team this year and took silver.
The Russian team Levitation (female performer), competing since 2009, took bronze after a closely fought battle with the long established Finnish team (female performer), beating them to bronze by only 0.4 points. American husband and wife team Animare who placed fifth remain steadfast in their pursuit of winning world medals. (For scoring/judging details see Omniskore)
I was especially grateful to attend this World Championships as my competition was sadly very different than originally intended. My teammate and close friend Ben had a serious and life-changing canopy accident only three weeks before. Thankfully, Jay [Southall] was willing and able to step in as last minute cameraman with Ben’s full support and we left for the Czech Republic with only 12 jumps together to join in and simply do our best. Thanks Jay! It has been an emotional roller coaster for me personally and I wish all the very best to Ben, his girlfriend Jen and his family.
Notes to Future Self…
World Championships website for day videos and info