Mark Holliday

The Mafikeng pre-World Cup Competition in 2000 served both as a pre-World Cup dress-rehearsal and the South African National Champs, in order to select the South African team for the 2001 World Champs.

Mark Holliday.

I had logged several hundred practise hours over the preceding months and spent a lot of time involved in other disciplines such as sport psychology, visual exercises, weight reducing diet, and physical fitness in my endeavour to make the SA team.  

Things hadn’t been going my way. I had landed out three times in the first four competition days and Day 5 proved no better.  

After a long day, the sky died early with a strong surface wind and I barely made the final turn point about 100 km west of Mafikeng, at a remote place called Mansfield. I was faced with a single ploughed field with the furrows pointing 90 degrees to a 40km/h wind. On downwind I noticed that the heavy rains the day before had washed away a 100m section of the furrows so at the last minute I elected to land into wind across the furrows and trust the landing flap and strong ASW20B undercarriage. It fortunately worked out fine, but there was more to come: no cell phone signal. Happily, the farmer had a land line. 

The access road to the field could not accommodate a trailer, so the farmer, who went by the delightfully Dickensian name of Celester Crafford, volunteered his labourers who carried the de-rigged glider about 400 metres to his front lawn and two of them balanced the fuselage on its main wheel for the 2 hours it took my crew to arrive after negotiating treacherous roads for 80km. 

Outlandings are not the problem. Getting your glider to a safe place takes time, effort and usually a lot of hands.

The road back was very slow and when we reached the tar road we stopped for supper and my first beer in 3 months. I realised at this point that after four out-landings my competition dream was pretty much over, so I relaxed and had a party with my crew that evening. Lying in bed that night I reflected that my meticulous preparations had removed any room for flair and enjoyment.  I launched the next day slightly hungover yet in a refreshingly different frame of mind, and to my surprise scored 1000 points for the day’s win. 

Lessons:

  • If remote, there will not be a cell phone signal, so be sure to land near a farm house. 
  • Stick to your training and fly wide circuits. In my early out-landings I tended to fly narrow circuits. If I had been too tight in this situation I would not have been able to go for the into-wind landing which clearly was the right decision here. The 40km/h wind resulted in a 25 km/h touch down speed. 

Gliding is meant to be fun. Taking competitions too seriously is going to ruin it for you and for the other competitors.  

Ours is not a professional sport and unlike many other sports, we all need and rely on our fellow competitors to rig, retrieve, run wings, score, tug, find thermals and be safe. The real challenge in competitions I find is to find out what potential the day had and whether you matched up to it or not. You never see a competition where one competitor wins every day. 

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