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Friday, August 15, 2008

Our two “podium” pilots – Doug Jacobs (first in 18-Meter class) and Karl Striedieck (third in 15-Meter class) – received their daily prizes and the applause of all at this morning’s pilot briefing. It was gratifying to end on a high note, for the pessimists were right about today’s weather: hopeless for soaring. We have low clouds and light rain, with no change predicted until tomorrow morning. WGC 2008 thus has ended a day earlier than we’d hoped.

We wound up with 8 competition days – a somewhat disappointing total by the standards of recent WGCs. The east winds and excellent weather of the practice period were gone by the start of competition, and we have struggled with a series of low-pressure systems generally passing north of Germany. Though many would have liked to do a bit more flying, no one believes that the competition here was anything other than a fair test of soaring skills.

Tasks made good use of the rather windy and often tricky weather. We had a few undercalls – the really severe tasking often said to be characteristic of top-level competition seems to be a thing of the past (there have been few 5+ hour tasks in any of the past three WGCs). We also had one day on which nearly all gliders of the final two classes were unable to get home; this was in part due to weather somewhat weaker than expected, and also to a launch that took a bit longer than it should.

The accurate task-setting was due in no small part to some of the best weather forecasting ever at any gliding competition. If contest weatherman Erland Lorenzen wasn’t strictly perfect, he was closer to perfection than a glider pilot has any right to expect. He received a long and well-deserved ovation at this morning’s final pilot briefing.

Indeed, the entire contest organization for WGC 2008 has been excellent. Strong points include a superb airfield, a task area second to none for landability, plenty of competent volunteers, well-organized and informative briefings, high-quality food service on the airfield, and a relaxed attitude toward regimentation (e.g. the general rule for driving around the airfield has been “Anything that doesn’t cause problems is OK.”) The early problem of a long launch was addressed, and by the end of the contest all gliders were in the air in not much more than an hour.

Though not yet formally recognized (that will happen at tomorrow’s closing ceremonies) the champions have been decided. In 15-Meter class, György Gulyas of Hungary, the pilot most would have named the pre-contest favorite, has prevailed by a convincing margin over 3-time World Champion Janusz Centka of Poland. György was more consistent than any pilot here, and showed himself willing to charge out on his own when conditions were right for this. Mark Leeuwenburgh of the Netherlands is third, by dint of steady flying and especially by staying clear of the trouble that overtook several of his rivals during the final task.

In 18-Meter class, Olivier Darroze of France is the champion, showing a first-rate mix of brilliance and consistency. He flew a typically disciplined contest with teammate Frederic Hoyeau, under the expert direction of captain Eric Napoleon. Not all teams had their team flying working smoothly here, but in 18-Meter class Team France certainly did. Ronald Termaat of the Netherlands was second; he led for much of the race, until overhauled by Olivier with a couple of days to go. Karol Staryszak of Poland was third; he started very well, but stumbled just a bit when his competitors were surging.

Open class offers an interesting view of team flying. Michael Sommer and Tassilo Bode of Germany are as smooth and experienced a team pair as have ever flown gliders, and it should be no surprise to see them at the top of the final scoresheet. It took them a while to get into top gear, which allowed Laurens Goudriaan of South Africa, flying brilliantly, to stay in front for several days. But their performance in the second half of the contest smoothly carried them past Laurens. Compare this to Holger Karow, who likes to fly on his own – and in 2003 made this strategy work superbly. He had some excellent flights here, but not quite the consistency that would have earned him a medal.

We’ve received lots of email at the US Team address (for which all here are grateful). A couple of items were comments on some things I’ve reported. I noted that Alena Netusilova’s second-place finish on August 9th was “possibly the best-ever daily WGC result by a woman.” In fact, on the 4th day of the 1952 World Gliding Championships in Spain, Hanna Reitsch of Germany placed second in the 2-seater class.

I also reported burn marks on the wingtip of on of the Lo-100 gliders participating in the airshow. In fact, these were hot wax droplets sputtered off the smoke bomb in its dying moments – they are not dangerous to the wing and are easily cleaned up.