POHANG, South Korea - Team USA parachutists set a world record as they beat out China to take the gold in women's formation skydiving here Oct. 7 during the Military World Games.
Four female members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team performed 35 formations in 35 seconds during their last jump at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or CISM World Games.
Two of the formations didn't actually count due to judges ruling that contact wasn't stationary in one case and separation was incomplete in the other. No matter, 33 formations were enough to set the world record, according to the team's captain, Sgt. 1st Class Angela Nichols.
The record they broke was their own, set in Indonesia last year by the same team of Nichols and Sgts. 1st Class Laura Davis, Dannielle Woosley and Jennifer Davidson.
CISM was the first time the women had competed since Golden Knights team member Sgt. 1st Class Corey Hood died following a midair collision with a Navy skydiver at a Chicago air show Aug. 16.
Joining the four female Golden Knights in their Korea jumps was male videographer Sgt. 1st Class Scott Janice. His job was to jump out of the aircraft immediately following the women and videotape their airborne formations from above.
Janice wears two video cameras on his helmet. The cameras are controlled by an eyepiece. Wherever he looks, that's what the cameras record, Janice said. His video was shown to the contest's judges for technical review. Without the video, judges would have no way to award points for the various formations, as they can't be seen accurately from the ground.
First the women were required to skydive into a star formation by joining hands. They had to hold this formation for five seconds before releasing and maneuvering through the air into other formations such as the doughnut and unipod. Between each formation, the skydivers must turn 360 degrees.
After the first star formation, the women had 30 seconds to complete the 32 other formations they successfully performed in the last jump.
"I wish we could have seen the video," Nichols said. In this case, after the video was reviewed by judges it was destroyed, because the jumps took place over South Korea's 1st Marine Division training area in Pohang and host-nation rules forbid release.
The Golden Knights and other competitors each made six jumps in the formation skydiving competition. They set the record on the final jump, which Nichols said was the most difficult because the moves were faster.
Points were tallied for each jump and the U.S. team was awarded first place. China took the silver medal and France took bronze.
"Our training and dedication ... exceeded everyone else's and enabled us to win the gold," Janice said.
The four U.S. female parachutists also competed in the style category at CISM and the precision accuracy competition. In the latter, competitors jumped from 3,500 feet and tried to maneuver their parachute to land on what Nichols said looked like a 2-centimeter dot. An electronic pad measured the distance from the bullseye that each parachutist landed.
In the style competition, the parachutists jumped from 7,500 feet and did a series of turns and back loops. But formation skydiving is the USA team's specialty, Nichols said.
While Nichols and her team have been traveling around the world for almost five years competing, this was the first time she has been to South Korea.
"I've been pleasantly surprised," Nichols said.
It's been a cultural experience, she explained, adding that the Koreans have been great hosts. Hundreds of Korean school children came to watch the skydiving and so did some of the South Korean marines.