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SpeedRiding Japan

April 6, 2008, Saw the 1st ever ski launch Speedflying event in Japan "Speed Riding Race in TSUGAIKE" which was held at the Tsugaike highland ski resort, Nagano, Japan.

The event was organized by Tsugaike para-glider school - the homeground of Gin Gliders in Japan.

11 competitors participated.
The competition was Downhill time race of 2 rounds. The faster time was adopted.
The competition course slope was 1.4 km long and had very shallow 24 degrees maximum slope angle.

1st Tsuchiya,A Nano14 1;04;45
2nd Kasamatsu,S Nano14 1;05;97
3rd Tsuruoka,S Nano14 1;06;09
4th Nomura,T Nano14 1;08;13
5th Shirai,H Nano13 1;06;22 +3s Handicap
6th Hirooka,O Nano12 1;04;12 +6s Handicap
7th Hayashi,K Nano12 1;04;31 +6s Handicap
8th Tasaki,S Nano14 1;10;40
9th Fujino,I GLX114 1;00;08 +10.5s Handicap
10th Utsuno,T Nano14 1;11;70
11th Matsuzaki,M Nano12 1;19;27

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Wow, what can I say?  It is

Wow, what can I say?  It is truly great to see the great sport of Speedflying finally get a little recognition.  I have been a fan of this sport since its very inception and I sincerely believe that there is not one more exciting “extreme sport” out there that combines what Speedflying does.  When you think about the combination of skills necessary to be able to obtain high speeds on downhill skis through uneven terrain, deploy and manipulate a parachute under high speeds, avoid obstacles on either side of you and throughout the course, and successfully then navigate through a designated course to a safe finish, it is a little astonishing.  The potential for creativity and innovation in approach and equipment design are also extremely intriguing, I firmly believe this is going to be the next big thing and Speedflying will ultimately end up in the Winter X-Games and the Winter Olympics.

I want to focus on just what it does bring to the table in the skills that it asks from its athletes.  What must be done to succeed and to win in the competitive field of downhill racing? The athlete must be physically able to control their own body and reflexes to actively perceive the course ahead of them, make decisions about how to navigate that course geographically, and then also how to do so the most efficiently and with the shortest amount of time.

These decisions in Speedflying are very multifaceted.  When and where to deploy the glider is crucial to achieving the best time possible. In order to get airborne, the pilot must first achieve a high rate of speed on skis and then launch himself into the air and simultaneously deploy the glider at a specific moment so as not to lose too much of that speed as the glider catches the air.  Once airborne, the pilot must maintain the right angle of decent to again maintain a high rate of speed, but still enough upward lift to lift off the ground as needed.  They are all decisions about fractions of inches and hundreds of meters a minute with very little time to dwell on.

Simply put, Speedflying is no different than downhill skiing just that the course is organized as such that an ordinary downhill skier would struggle and an additional option of speed and elevation is required.  That option is the ability to rise and fall with the terrain in a much more dramatic manner, using the speed of the pilot as the means to achieve loft.

The danger element is obvious, high rates of speed and potential elevations that could be very extreme (especially if wind is a factor) require the pilots who compete be strong in body and willing to take risks.  They must also be no fools.  The intelligence required to determine angles and obstacles at that kind of speed requires critical thought that is instantaneous.  These guys are truly great athletes.

I have to admit when I first

I have to admit when I first saw the word “speedflying” I immediately though two things.  First of all, that is about the stupidest name I can possibly think of for anything that might actually be cool, which I have come to find out speedflying actually kind of is.  Speedflying sounds like something that is trying to sound cool and extreme and all that crap, but really is just kind of lame made up by lame people.  I don’t know, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because of the difference in language from Japanese to English can lead to some interesting combinations of words, but I digress. 

The second thing I thought of was “I need to see what it is that they are talking about” and I immediately went to YouTube and found some pretty amazing videos.  I mean honestly, guys on skis flying down a mountain and then ripping a parachute out and then LITERALLY flying down a mountain.  If you put guns in their hands you would have the biggest scene of any James Bond movie, ever.  That might add to the danger element a little, but I am thinking maybe it could be the next generation of the biathlon that people would actually want to watch.  Cross country skiing is boring to watch, downhill skiing is better, downhill skiing with parachutes is great, and downhill skiing with parachutes and guns could be legendary. 

Anyway, not to get ahead of myself, I really think this sport is something more people should be watching and literally needs to be refined to a point where it could be a Winter Olympic entry at some point.  The Winter Olympics have adopted many of the so-called “extreme sports” in the past several generations of the games and with good reason.  The Winter Olympics are widely regarded as secondary in prestige and excitement to the Summer Olympics and aside from the men’s hockey tournament which has long adopted the “Dream Team” relaxation of its amateur-only rules so that the world’s professionals can play, have not generally been huge television ratings producers. 

Adding a sport with this kind of intrigue and potential for excitement would be very intriguing to viewers of all shapes and sizes, if not only for the morbid excitement of seeing something go wrong.  I legitimately think that the event would have some primetime airing potential if advertised properly and I know I would be watching for sure. 

Still, if you add some kind of shooting challenge in there, I think you could have ratings gold.  Really, I do not see it being that much different from the biathlon in that it is a test of speed, endurance, and shooting accuracy, on skis.  This is exactly the same as that, but only with much higher speeds and the potential for ridiculous feats of flight and ridiculous accidents that could be life threatening.  It is kind of the same reason a lot of people watch NASCAR.