Luca Bertossio is the champion of champions! He won the 2015 edition of the Glider Aerobatics World Air Games in Dubai, the most difficult and complete competition of glider aerobatics, the one that is reserved to the best glider pilots in the world only.
He won four medals for Italy: the most important one, the gold medal for the overall results, and other three medals for the single programs: one gold and two bronze. Ferenc Toth (Hungary) won the silver medal, and Premsyl Vavra (Czech Republic), won third place.
The World Air Games are reserved to champions: only the best 9 athletes from all of the world, one per nation, can compete. The pilots in the race were much more experienced and had won many more titles than Luca Bertossio. Maciej Pospieszynski, Polish, is a two times world Champion; Georgy Kaminskiy, Russian, is a three times world
champion; and Ferenc Toth, Hungarian, is also a three times world champion, besides being the 2015 reigning champion. But none of them ever won first place at the World Air Games.
The truth is that at the WAG level, talent and technical ability can be taken for granted. Most pilots could argue that being amongst the chosen WAG participants is a great accomplishment in itself.
Of course, this makes the World Air Games an even tougher competition, and it is therefore the pilot’s mind set that makes the difference. In this competition, Luca Bertossio proved to have all that was required to be a real champion: brains, true grit and cold blood.
Luca Bertossio and the American pilot Eric Lentz Gauthier followed the strategy developed in in Castel Viscardo, under the supervision of two key people: Sandor Katona, who is Luca's coach, and of the 2009 WAG Champion, the italian pilot Pietro Filippini.
There were three flights at the WAG. The third flight, the Freestyle, is generally Luca’s trademark flight. But the strategy he adopted had him lay all his cards on the first flight, the G1.
The G1 is the known flight: every pilot has to declare the figures he will fly ahead of time, and the judges will grade each manoever. The grade, multiplied by the difficulty factor (known as “K”), gives the total points. The pilot who earns the most points wins. And this is where the difficulty stands: the glider, having no engine, descends, and at a certain point, when the energy is finished, it is forced to land. If the pilot only declares a few figures, he will manage to fly them all, but he will only earn few points. On the other hand, if the pilot declares many figures, and is unable to complete the program within the altitude limit, strong penalties apply for each figure
not flown. A good strategy is therefore essential.
Although both Luca and Eric were training in the same place with the same people, they decided on extremely different tactical choices. Eric tried to exploit the fact that the positioning grade had very little impact on the overall performance, and therefore tried to extend his flying by presenting many figures that did not have great altitude changes or direction changes. He knew this would bring him out of the box, but also considered that it would allow him to fly many maneuvers and therefore gain points.
On the other hand, Luca bravely planned a program with a very high “K” (391- where the K generally flown in the world championships is 230), challenging the rest of the pilots, who flew a much more conservative program. The tactical choice made was to fly every maneuver very slowly, in order to waste the least possible amount of energy. Luca performed each figure, one after the other, slowly and perfectly, under the eyes of his fellow competitors.
Luca Bertossio won the G1 with more than a 200 point advantage (out of 1700) over the second in, the defending world champion Ferenc Toth. He recieved the news of his victory in the G1 through a whatsapp message from Italy.
Surprisingly, he did not give in to much emotion. He smiled, for sure he was very happy, but what he did was take one picture with his Italian supporters and friends, and immediately started ground-training for
flight number two (G2), the unknown, which was not going to be until the next day. No distractions…
The G2 is the unknown flight: the program that no one has trained before. Each pilot prepares one figure, and the program is composed of 7/9 figures chosen by drawing lots. Luca’s figure was not picked, which was a slight disadvantage. However, the results were quite satisfying: the first three pilots (1. Ferenc Toth, 2. Georgy Kaminskiy, 3. Luca Bertossio)
were all in 21 a point difference (out of 1500), which left Luca Bertossio with a Bronze medal for the G2 and and still maintaining an almost 200 point advantage over the other competitors in the overall results. His strategy was correct.
The third and last flight was the G3 program. World Air Games are the only FAI competition in which gliders fly freestyle.
The freestyle is the flight in which the glider dances in the air to the beat of music and paints the sky with colored smoke. In gliders, the smoke works all the time (you cannot turn it on and off like you can with powered aircrafts). The type of lines and figures that are left to see in the sky depend on the perspective of the observer and on the speed of the glider (slow lines and fast
lines result very different: in some cases the smoke will remain, in others it will vanish quickly). Flying freestyle with a glider therefore requires a particular training in order to have good results.
This is the program in which the pilot’s mind strength made the real difference. All pilots were under pressure: it was the last flight, and there was very little time, for most pilots, between the G2 and the G3 flight. But besides this, Luca Bertossio and Ferenc Toth, the two rivals fighting for first place, were especially challenged in unpleasant ways during the G3 flight.
Luca Bertossio was meant to fly first. He is an airshow
pilot, and freestyle is generally where he performs at his best. He has been called to fly in all the most relevant airshows in the world, including Oshkosh, where he will be returning on April. It is not by chance that sponsors such as Red Bull and Citizen Watches bet on him to be represented worldwide. You are winning, the program you are about to fly is your strong suit, and your biggest dream is about to come true.. this was Luca’s mind set as he was preparing to take off for the G3. He had fire in his eyes.
But as soon as the the music started…there was a moment of silence: the smoke system of the glider failed to work: the red smoke (the most visible) did not start. It is the famous Murphy law that is taught to pilots whilst earning their license… "Anything that can possibly go wrong, does". In this split second, you are faced with the alternative of either being a champion, or simply a good and unlucky pilot. This is where Luca gave his best: he quickly resorted to his true grit and did what only he could do:
he abandoned his well trained program, which would have resulted in an average flight with only one smoke, and improvised, giving the judges a beautiful flight, in spite of his bad luck. When he landed, he smiled at his coach, pulled up his shoulders and said three words: “è la vita”, in English “it’s life”. After Luca’s flight, he knew there was nothing more he could do.. only wait for the others to fly.
When the turn of Ferenc Toth came up, he had his fair share of problems too.
The Russian glider was damaged during landing (thankfully without any consequence for the pilot). The glider community, is unique in these circumstances. The pilots help one another, with true friendship and sportsmanship. Ferenc Toth was using the Russian glider, and was therefore forced to change to another glider. His fellow competitors lent him another glider without any hesitation.
Although all athletes were flying the same type of glider, the Swift S1, every glider has slight differences.
Fortunately, Ferenc Toth was allowed one brief flight in order to try the glider before his freestyle flight. When it was finally his turn for the last flight, the music for his freestyle started playing some seconds late, having him waste some precious time (and height) for his maneuvers. In spite of everything, his flight was good, but not enough to beat Luca Bertossio.
All pilots flew the Freestyle quite well. The French pilot Romain Vienne will be remembered for the best tailslide ever. Siegfried Mayr and Eric Lentz Gauthier had very interesting sequences. However, the G3 was won by the German pilot, Markus Feyerabend, who made an outstanding performance. The silver medal of the freestyle went to the Russian pilot, Georgy Kaminskiy. Bertossio won third place in the G3, and the rest is history. Luca Bertossio is the youngest pilot ever to win the Glider Aerobatics World Air Games.