Catching up with Matt Davidson, The Golden Knights

Visit Us

Matt Davidson has been a Golden Knight for almost twenty years, inspired by role model Knights when he was younger, and now providing an inspiration for new skydivers to reach the same heights. He is dedicated, focussed and driven to succeed, and to assist his teammates to reach their highest level. His life’s work has been given to the US Army team, and his reward has been to see the team reclaim their absolute world supremacy.

The Knights close Block 14 at the US Nationals
Knights at US Nationals


US Army Parachute Team, “Golden Knights” 8 Way Team Competitor

##Nationality, and where you live

USA, Raeford, North Carolina

##How long have you been with the Golden Knights?

I just completed my 19th year with the team.

##Number of jumps, breakdown of type:

  • 19,000+
  • 2,500 Style and Accuracy 
  • 800 Demonstration/demo training
  • 1,000 Video
  • 250 AFF Instruction
  • 30 Tandem Instruction
  • 5,000 4 way
  • 9,500 8 way

##Time in sport:

24 years, 7 months

##Sponsors (of the Golden Knights):

US Army

##Skydiving achievements

  • Acceptance to the U.S. Army Parachute Team (1993)
  • Multiple National Medals/Titles, 4, 8, 10 and 16 way (1996-2014)
  • 2 x World Cup Champion, 8 way (1998, 2011)
  • 3 x World Champion, 8 way (1997, 2012, 2014)

##What do you enjoy about 8way?

I love looking across a formation and seeing seven other teammates firing on all cylinders; knees dropping, pieces turning, faces contorting with focus and determination.  I love the feeling I get when breaking off from a jump that we’ve performed our best on, exchanging a nod of approval with a teammate as we track away.

More than the awesome feeling that I get from jumping, over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the immense satisfaction of coming together as a team to meet or exceed our goals and expectations.  I love the ebbs and flows of the journey, learning and growing together as a team. Being around people on a daily basis that have such a high level of dedication and commitment to excellence is something that I value greatly and am honored to be a part of.

One of the things I love most is experiencing a moment when the tables turn; a teammate that I’ve taught different aspects of the discipline to over the years becomes the teacher, the coach becomes the student and I learn something new.  That, for me is one of the most satisfying. 

##What is the motto of the Golden Knights?

“When I have gained the respect, admiration and gratitude of the American Public and my Teammates, I have fulfilled my mission as a Golden Knight.”  

##For over 20 years the Golden Knights won the 8-way at every World Championships since the event began, why were they so far ahead of the rest of the world?

They had the right combination of talent, discipline, commitment, focus and strong leadership. 

##What happened to challenge that world domination?

During that time, an average of two of our personnel would have to move on every two years or so. As the level in the sport continued to rise, it became increasingly more difficult to build a team capable of competing at the world class level, having to change personnel so frequently.  After September 11, 2001 our pool of potential candidates also became much smaller.  To adapt, some years later we were given the opportunity as competitors to stay on the team indefinitely, as long as the team saw fit.

##What do you remember as the best competition for the Knights ?

The World Championships in 2012 in Dubai stands out to me for several reasons. The first being that we realized our goal of becoming World Champions after a 15 year dry spell for the Golden Knights. It was very special for me personally as I was on the team that last won in 1997. Then, there were the obvious reasons, being in such a beautifully epic place such as Dubai. Jumping over and landing on the Palm Island was thrilling.  I’ll always remember riding the boat back to the main DZ from the palm after round 10, confident we had won, savoring the magic of the moment.  

##And the worst?

I’ve experienced my share of disappointing losses over the years.  All were painful learning experiences.  The worst was our 4-way loss at the US Nationals in Perris Valley in 2005.  We trained very hard and were confident going into the meet. In training, we had achieved a 24 average, which was high at the time. Although we trained hard, we underestimated the value of competition experience leading up to the meet which left us somewhat underprepared collectively.  We were also faced with an additional and unexpected challenge. A person in our higher chain of command decided he was going to come watch the competition. Just before the meet started, he informed us that if we lost the competition, we would also lose our Team Leader, longtime friend and teammate, John Hoover.  He would be sent to Afghanistan to help fight the War on Terror.  While always ready to answer the call of duty to serve our country, the timing and delivery of the news as an ultimatum were poorly chosen motivational tactics.

Ultimately, we under-performed throughout the competition. In round 10, a fast non-repeater, our train came off the tracks.  We had a brain-lock and several busts.  Deland Fire (Shannon Pilcher, Ian Bobo, Gary Smith, and Natasha Montgomery) had a smooth and consistent round.  Both teams tied round 10 which led to an exciting round 11 jump-off situation. It had been 10 years since that situation had last come up at a major competition.  

The excitement mounted as both teams prepared for the jump. The crowd of spectators on the dropzone congregated and beset to form a long lane that led to the loading area, cheering and high-fiving both teams as we passed. The ride to altitude was quiet and the tension was palpable. The green light came on, we slid open the door, got set and exited.  We had a major problem with block 18 right out the door and struggled to find our rhythm for the rest of the jump.  It wasn’t to be.  I had a sinking feeling as I tracked off. I knew we had lost. The canopy ride seemed long and unpleasant. I tried to mentally prepare myself for what was about to come. After landing, we walked back through the lane formed again by the crowd. I forced a smile and fought the lump in my throat as we made our way up to the stage where Dan BC was waiting for us, microphone in hand.  We were faced with immediately having to relive the painful experience in front of the crowd while the jumps were live-judged on a jumbo screen.  John Hoover was given the microphone to describe the jump, in detail, as it was judged. I was impressed as he narrated the spectacle with poise and professionalism. Deland Fire had another smooth round, achieving a well-deserved victory.  

##How did it feel, winning the sword in Dubai 2012?

We were on cloud nine! It was the culmination of four years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. That lineup started in 2009 with five of the eight members having very little experience, never having done 8-way before. I was proud of my boys.  We met or exceeded almost all of our goals and won with a record high average. Holding the William H Ottley Sword on the top podium was personally something I had been visualizing since I last held it in 1997.

##Did you know the French consciously made their formations smaller after seeing how you beat them in Dubai?

I did notice after their team’s coach, Jerome, told me.

##How did the Knights change before winning the Bill Ottley sword again at the next World Championships, in Czech, 2014?

We lost a valuable team member, our Team Leader Brian Krause.  He chose to retire from active duty shortly after the World Meet in 2012. The talented and driven Jesse Stahler stepped in to fill the void. Jesse had little to no 8-way experience, so we took a step back in performance for a while. It didn’t take him long to get the hang of it.  He learned quickly and we went on to have a solid performance in Czech.

8-way podium, World Championships 2014, Prostejov

##How did you get so far ahead of the opposition?

Only having changed one person in our lineup, especially one of Jesse’s caliber, it wasn’t too difficult to keep our train moving. In contrast, the French team, who had been our main competition up to that point, had replaced all but one of their former members with newer jumpers of less experience.  In essence, we were the team with the most training.

##Does this show a return to the World domination of the Golden Knights in 8-way? 

I have made it my personal mission and so far, it’s been my life’s work to help the team get back into this position. It’s been a struggle of ups and downs for many years for us to establish a system that has recently been successful.  

##How did the US Nationals work out for you this year? 

For our team, it was a push to new heights.  Even though we won the World Meet in Czech weeks earlier by a wide margin, we knew we had underperformed and fell short of our goals and expectations.  We were determined not to let that happen at Nationals where we tied the single jump scoring record and achieved our goal of breaking our 10 round average point record.  We accomplished that, scoring a 23.7 average, the highest we or any other 8-way team in the history of the event has ever achieved.

Matt Davidson about to close Block 19

##How are you going to improve performance further?

We’re going to continue to build on the foundation that we’ve established.  We are replacing one person to fill in for a teammate who will be sorely missed, Mike Laroche. He has decided to further his Army career by going to school to become a Physician’s Assistant.  His contribution to our team has been invaluable and is a huge reason for our success.  He’s leaving behind a positive example through his uncommon level of dedication, drive, analytical sense, technical expertise and his refusal to accept anything less than our absolute best.  Our new teammate has big shoes to fill but we are all ready and excited to take on the challenge.

##What does the team give back to the Army? 

The Golden Knights were originally formed as a competition team in 1959 during the peak of the Cold War to compete nationally and internationally and we try to uphold the tradition of victory that has been set before us. We strive to achieve and exhibit a level of professionalism and excellence that reflects the level that the men and women who wear our Army’s uniform practice every day.  It’s our job to deliver that message to the American people and to people around the world.

##How important is it to the Army to demonstrate their winning form?

It’s very important. It shows what we are capable of when we work together toward something larger than ourselves.

GK 8-way. Bottom row: Josh, Mike, Larry, Matt , Matt. Top; Justin, Kurt, Sean, Jesse 

##How does the competitive team support the demo teams and vice-versa?

The show schedule for the demonstration teams demands that they travel nearly every weekend throughout the show season.  They’re gone an average of 300 days per year performing for the American public.  We are all trained first as demonstrators and sometimes the competition team performs demonstrations when the Black and Gold Demonstration Teams cannot due to their busy schedules.

Recently, we’ve begun doing skills camps to help share our knowledge with the demo teams when their schedules permit.  It’s something we hope to continue doing a lot more of.

##Describe the Golden Knights team in 5 words or less

Dedicated.  Professional.  Driven.  Focused.  Ambitious.  

##Are you aware of being role models for new skydivers?

I realize that being a member of this team comes with a huge responsibility to set a positive example of professionalism, technical expertise and safety. It’s not one I take lightly.  

As far as being a role model, I remember being in awe of Craig Girard, Scott Rhodes, Dan BC, and Mark Kirkby to name but a few.  I remember how valuable that was and still is to me to have them as role models. They’re shining examples that show us the level of greatness that’s possible to attain if we set our minds to it. I don’t presume to be anywhere near that level but it’s something I continually strive for.

GK female 4-way; Solly (coach), Scott (camera) Laura, Jen, Angela, Dannielle

##Your wife Jen is on the GK 4-way ladies team, what has been your proudest moment?

I’m impressed everyday by her level of focus and dedication and am always proud of her.  My proudest moment was when she and her team won the bronze medal at the US Nationals in the Open Category in 2012, becoming the first all-female 4-way team to do so.

I’m extremely fortunate to be able to share the experience of being a Golden Knight competitor with her, to see her on the plane everyday and to share the wealth of experiences we’ve had.

##How new is the female 4-way team to the Knights, and why was it formed?  

GKF4 was formed in 2010, the product of a vision of Brian Krause. He knew that the USAPT had four women that possessed the skill and potential to be a successful 4-way team and worked to get the team formed. In a male-dominated sport, the value of having an all female team competing at the highest levels while representing the US Army speaks volumes.

They’re positive role models and prove that there is equal opportunity for women to achieve that level if they have the necessary focus and determination to succeed.

##Would the Knights ever take a female into the 8way ranks?

Absolutely.  To my knowledge, there has never been one to try out. I can think of four that are close by and are fully capable of handling the job.  They kind of have their hands full with taking the world of 4-way by storm at the moment, though.

##Who is or has been the epitome of the Golden Knight?  

Each year all teams within the Golden Knights vote on the, “Golden Knight of the Year.” The award is not usually earned by someone who possesses the greatest skydiving ability but one who exhibits intangible qualities that show true strength in character.  The person who continually shows those qualities and is the epitome of a Golden Knight, in my opinion, is friend and teammate Rich Sloan who is currently serving with the Team’s Tandem Section. He’s the kind of guy who habitually shows up early and stays late. He’s the kind of guy that will stop what he’s doing to help out a teammate or anyone in need for that matter. He volunteers to do the dirty work and doesn’t ask for any of the credit. He’s an example of selfless service, the epitome of an American soldier.

##What is the best thing about being a Golden Knight?

I love training and preparing for competition, being a part of this team and experiencing the process. For me, the prize is truly in the process and in the friendships that are formed along the way, both on the team and with all of the fellow competitors I’ve met around the world. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have been doing this for the majority of my career and I’m still loving every minute of it.

Golden Knights on Facebook

2014 Nationals Golden Knights 8-way, Skydive Chicago
2014 World Championships, Golden Knights 8-way, Prostejov, Czech Republic

Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

Visit My Website
View All Posts