World Parachute contenders keep feet on the ground

Jumping out of a plane from 700m at World Parachuting Championships in Dubai leaves little room for nerves.

Spectators watch the action during the accuracy event at Dubai Marina.
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The scene was more reminiscent of a holiday resort than a world championship. So relaxed were the competitors, you would never have guessed that any were about to throw themselves from a plane.

The rain may have wreaked havoc with the early days of the World Parachuting Championships Mondial 2012 in Dubai, but yesterday the sun was back in style. Skydivers from 57 countries walked around in swimming shorts and flip-flops.

Some secured their parachutes; some ran through manoeuvres in their specific categories. Others mingled with fans, playing volleyball or foosball. Many just sunbathed in the glorious conditions.

Tension, it would seem, was the only thing absent from the green fields of Skydive Dubai, near Al Habtoor Hotel, where the action is taking place through Sunday.

Fear, obviously, is an alien concept to these competitors. And you suspect most of them would struggle to identify nerves as well.

For the divers, competition focuses the mind. The French team practised their eight-way formation on the ground. Three Bahraini divers in the individual Accuracy category meticulously packed their parachutes, a painstaking exercise that, needless to say, leaves no margin for mistakes.

"We trained in Bahrain for about a month," says Khaled Ahmad, 27. "We then came here to Dubai and prepared for two weeks, practicing every day from morning to early evening."

The extra preparation seemed to be paying off for Ahmad and his teammates; they were hovering around 15th place. "It is a relatively new sport in Bahrain and the rest of the Gulf, so we are very proud that we're competing against, and beating, nations that are more established than us," he said.

Some teams were taking part purely for the love of skydiving. Among them was Jordan's five-man contingent. "We compete from tournament to tournament, we have no preparation time in the between," said Akram Salem Al Hamaideh, 44. "We are all retired soldiers, but because we love it so much, we carry on jumping." After thousands of dives, does he still get butterflies in the stomach or even the full-on adrenalin rush of which first-time jumpers so often speak?

"It is still the best feeling in the world: dangerous but incredibly enjoyable," he says of the jump, which lasts from five to seven minutes from plane to landing. "The enjoyment far outweighs any nervousness."

Other teams are clearly dominant, and are there to win. The US, with a larger pool of divers than its rivals, seems to be top of most of the categories, team and individual. Great Britain, Australia and Brazil, too, all have big squads.

The UAE team, made up of expatriates, performed creditably, with Timothy McMaster finishing seventh in the overall Accuracy rankings which had finished yesterday afternoon.

For many divers, Dubai was the new experience.

"Training for the competition, and actually participating are completely different," says Irishman Eddie Montieth.

"You get so used to your own weather conditions and terrain, and then you get here and you only have a couple of practice jumps to get used to new conditions before the competition starts."

For Montieth, 22, there is the added novelty of participating in an international competition for the first time. Still he, like everyone else around him, was taking it all in his stride. Enjoyment, not apprehension, again the order of the day.

"I've trained mostly in Ireland as well as the US and England, and it's usually diving above vast green fields," he says.

"Here the views are just incredible, from all those buildings to the Palm."

Jumping from heights of 700 metres, the individual divers glide from above the city towards the Palm Jumeirah for the latter part of the dive before drifting towards the drop zone at Skydive Dubai.

The Accuracy competition was over for the day but the large screens continued to screen some astonishingly spectacular footage of the formation dives, which land at different locations. "This competition in Dubai really has the best of everything," Ahmad says. "The atmosphere has been great and the organisation I would give 110 per cent."

Organisation and enjoyment. What more could the fans or divers ask for? Almost to a man and woman, the competitors have enjoyed one thing above all other: the amazing views of the skyscraper-dominated Dubai skyline and the drop over the Palm Jumeirah.

"It's mega," says Montieth, the young Irishman. "There's nowhere else that's better."

It's enough to make you want to jump out of a plane yourself.

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