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Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 1998): World Cup Diary (part 3 of 3)

report world cup dieppe championship

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#1 Al Hargus (RIP)

Al Hargus (RIP)


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Posted 01 December 1998 - 04:02 AM


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9:00 AM - Ballet competition today! The event is scheduled for 2:00 PM. The weather is threatening again. Will it hold off today? Reports say there is a big storm on the way and is due at 12:30 PM

10:30 AM - Captains' meeting and a decision to move up the competition about two hours. Can we beat the storm and fly dry?

11:00 AM - Even though Shanti Air has nothing to lose, many on the team are still nervous. I am asked several times about equipment choices about an hour and a half before we are schedules to compete. The team is pacing the equipment area.

11:30 AM - Scott Weider of Rhode island and also a member of Team USA flies in Quadline Ballet. He does really well until the last 30 seconds of his routine. Scott has battled a case of pneumonia and saw a doctor Thursday. He did fly and finish, that is a major accomplishment at the World Cup. Scott is pleased to be attending. He finishes ninth in Ballet.

12:30 PM - Shanti Air has been asked to ground crew for Aftershock, the six person team from Japan. They are the favorites for the event. I meet with Aftershock and tell them that I was inspired by their 1997 World Cup performance and will be honored to be on the field with them this time. We cannot win, so why not another six person team? The team bows very politely and applauds.

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1:00 PM - Aftershock flies their routine well. They have to as they are 15 points behind from the precision event. They fly to music from the movie Godzilla with a similar routine to the one they flew in 1997. They are very happy! I feel that Shanti Air has a more complex routine that incorporates all six fliers. We have better choreography. We can do better. We can beat them!

1:30 PM - Shanti Air is next up! The team is as nervous as if the Cup was on the line. Can we make this work? Heavy Wind Opus 8 Slots and 400# test line. We are not allowed to test fly before we enter the field. Not very fair. Pit is 15 feet wide by 300 feet long. No flying, no way to know anything. Your ground crew carries out your kites and sets them up. Five minutes later you are called IN by the Field Director whether you are ready or not. Positive Lift from Australia will ground crew along with Pierre and one other team member from Keops from France.

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1:35 PM - "IN" We have a good launch. These winds and these kites will work. The music is very loud. I yell to the Field Director, "Turn the Music Down" OOPS! He’s French and does not understand. The team's timing is way off because the team members cannot hear me. The team continues to 1 minute and 45 seconds and someone makes a wrong turn. A massive air tangle occurs between fliers #1,2,3,&4. I am determined to get us out of this! I will not get a zero for this event, too! I will finish this routine even if I have to do it alone. Emergency management kicks in. (This is my personal name for problem corrections on the field.) Where can the team get back into the routine? Where are we in the music? How do I clear my lines to lead them? I charge the tangle and run down field. This brings the tangle close enough that I can see it. I untangle my lines quickly and relaunch. Positive Lift was ready! 2 minutes into the music. I don’t know how long anyone has been down. I follow the music and our place in it! Drop and Stop next? NO! No one will be able to rejoin and continue there. What’s next? Box Burst is what I yell. "Meet me at Box Burst!" Red Flight has a ground switch for this maneuver, Dave and Gina perform it perfectly without my telling them. The plan works and all six of us make it back into the routine. We are back into the groove at 3 minutes and 15 seconds. The rest of the routine goes like clockwork and as drawn. We fly the best we can but have lost 1 1/2 minutes. Were any of us on the ground for 45 seconds? Will we zero this one, too? I don’t know and I don’t care. I did the best I could do at my job as caller and team leader. We finished together and called "OUT"

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1:45 PM - Afterwards the team searches for excuses and reasons. I did my best! I have always realized that errors can and do occur on the field and my job has always been to get us past them and to finish the routine. I accomplished that mission.

1:55 PM - The Chicago Fire flies with a five person team. It is raining for their routine. BUT Eric has prepared the team in many ways, even to having really nice bright yellow team rain jackets. About half way through their routine three of the fliers become tangled with a single line kite that has wandered onto the field. The Fire can protest and ask for a refly, but Eric knows that the weather conditions will not improve and he elects to stand with their current performance. They finish together and are ranked toward the bottom third of the teams.

4:00 PM - This was probably be the last competition flight for Shanti Air. It was a very good year, all things considered!

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7:00 PM - Evening dinner with all the rest of the festival kiters. It is a pretty rowdy party. The Japanese are on a roll, they are World Champions. The Odako Team from Japan really parties and all of them have a great time. One thing that really stands out to me is that the entire Japanese contingent has their own film crew, camera man and sound man. The Japanese never do things half way!

The appetizer for this meal is a plate of smoked salmon. No one likes it, except for Scott Weider and me. We consume everyone's at our table and some others. We must have eaten $200 worth of salmon, each!

Pete Digiacomo finds out that the 30 waitresses at this meal are VERY interested in getting his souvenir Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pins. Pete is mobbed by them and loves it!

9:00 PM - Okay, the party is really over. All the team is scattered. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe the team will want to do a demonstration and make it all even!

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10:30 AM - Vicki and I tour the Dieppe markets, probably for the last time! We shop and watch life go by in France. It is raining again. The team is nowhere to be found.

12:00 PM - Eat lunch at my favorite restaurant on Rue de la Barre. It is my favorite because the food is excellent and the waitress is cute! She also knows that we are American and immediately resorts to sign language when we arrive. She is very helpful. I have Fish Stew and Ham with butter. Excellent!

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2:00 PM - The team meets at the Dieppe Festival Headquarters. No small affair! Three trailers and a huge tent complex. The Finance office is our destination. The festival organizers have kindly agreed to reimburse us for a large percentage of our air fare and hotel accommodations. Paperwork is submitted and all goes well. We meet the Chicago Fire there and they all seem to be in good spirits after their problems yesterday. Eric is disappointed but he has been to eight World Cups before, so this is a lifetime quest for him and this event is only a minor setback for the Fire. I know that one day Eric Wolff and the Fire will finally win that elusive trophy. Some Americans have doubted that we would be reimbursed at all, but we all leave happy and I am about 1400 francs richer.

3:00 PM - There is a gathering on the competition field and Sky Dance, the 1997 World Champions, elaborately drive out to the field in parade fashion holding the World Cup. The Cup is reverently transferred to a very excited Aftershock. Carl Robertshaw becomes the first winner of the Individual Quadline World Cup. Sky Dance then flies their 1997 award winning routine.

5:00 PM - This is the beginning of the real end of the trip. The team is gathered to break down the team kites for the trip back to the US. 28 Opus 8’s to airplane size is a real task. The team is still working together, but is very somber (read: "burned out" here!)

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Pete Digiacomo, wife Karen, Dave Hoelter and wife Ellen will remain in Europe. Dave and Ellen to Austria and relatives, Pete and Karen to Germany and touring.

8:00 PM - Drinks and a final party with the Chicago Fire and many others at Le Rondo, a bar on the beach. Winds are so strong at the beach tonight (steady 30-35 mph off the Channel), you have to hold onto the railing just to get inside. Jon and Marianne Trennepohl are there; so are Scott Weider and his wife, Kathy. Many teams are there drowning their grief in not taking the Cup back to their respective countries, but the atmosphere is light and gay. I meet and talk to many, MANY people.

9:30 PM - Vicki and I dine at Les Tourelles restaurant. I like this place. It is frequented by locals and we are the only ones not French. Stuffed trout and cheese for me! And would you believe that one of the desert items is "whipped cream" -- nothing else -- just this huge bowl of whipped cream?

10:30 PM - Hard to get to sleep. Last night in France and, for all its foreignness, I think I like it here and will miss it when I am gone.


4:00 AM - Mike Donley has the van out front of the hotel. It is a three hour trip to Paris and DeGaulle airport and we don’t want to be late. Our flight is at 11:20 AM so we have plenty of time for problems. Little do we know what is to come! Just four of the team are making this trip. Mike, Gina, Vicki and I. We do get lost several times.

8:00 AM - We finally make it to DeGaulle airport. We are all very tired and it will be difficult going home after this one!

9:30 AM - We finally get the rental van taken care of and get in line for the first of five security checks. There are French Republican Army soldiers patrolling the airport with loaded rifles.

10:00 AM - Security check for baggage goes smoothly even though we are carrying three bags of kites that resemble rocket launchers. The kite bags move through the X-ray machines twice. We are questioned about the viewed contents, but are never required to open the bags. Security agents, who are aware of the Dieppe Festival wish the team well. They say that we should come back and have better luck next time. How True!

10:10 AM - All movement to the departure gates is stopped by the military. Announcements over the PA system say,"Security Alert..." We are stopped and are milling about with 500 or 600 people from everywhere on the planet. No one knows what is going on. We see army and police and uniforms everywhere.

10:30 AM - All exits to the gates are blocked by the army. No one knows anything and the tension builds. Over 1,000 are now waiting, hot, crowded and nervous.

11:00 AM - I recognize bomb disposal people by their flak jackets and helmets. They are moving up one of the ramps carrying blast blankets and shielding stuff. Oh oh! Personally, I am not too worried as the police and the army are not moving us but only holding us in this area.

11:15 AM - KABOOM! A very sharp report like an M-80 firecracker. Two ladies faint, children are crying. Rumor circulates that an abandoned briefcase has been destroyed in place. A French businessman next to us says that this happens three or four time a week! "Just a precaution", he says and points to a sign on the wall that reads, "All abandoned bags will be destroyed immediately for security reasons". Someone has just had their underwear blown up.

11:20 AM - (Our scheduled departure time!!) The barricades are removed and we begin the process of getting all these people, one at a time, through the "Boarding Pass Only" checkpoint at the beginning of the ramp.

11:35 AM - The team really hurries through the Duty Free shopping area. Vicki and Gina are VERY disappointed, but we have a plane to catch, we hope!

11:37 AM - Passport Control and another boarding pass check.

11:39 AM - X-rays and a security check line next.

11:42 AM - WOW, finally gate 3B. The airline knew of the delays downstairs and the plane is still holding at the gate.

11:45 AM - The team is finally seated and ready to fly home. WOW! Vicki, Gina and Mike are already sleeping! We remain in the taxi pattern for a while. No hurry now! Airtime to Philadelphia is 8 hours.

12:20 PM - We are next to take off. WOW! We are right behind the Concorde and I watch it take off. It will arrive at Dulles International four hours before us. Well, money talks and the Flying Turtles really are slow!

12:45 PM - (Paris Time) Take-off. Au revoir, France! Back to US time, Al.

7:00 AM - (US Time) The Paris to Philly flight is as uneventful as an eight hour flight can be. Besides the team being physically and mentally exhausted, the in-flight movie is the Wedding Singer. Z Z Z Z Z Z Z I eat and fall asleep with visions of World Cups dancing in my head.

3:55 PM - Philly and the last plane to Cleveland. Customs is easy. I later learn that the sleepy Customs agent forgets to stamp my passport. It’s as bare and clean as when I left the US a week ago.

5:30 PM - On the ground in Cleveland. Vern Balodis is at the gate to meet us. He already knows how we did and doesn’t care!

5:45 PM - The four of us meet at the baggage area. Vic, Vern and I go outside to have a cigarette. (It sure isn’t Dieppe anymore, Dorothy!) By the time we get back to our bags, Gina and Mike are already gone! Oh well, it’s probably better this way.

6:30 PM - In the Balodismobile heading out on 71 South to Columbus. (Clearly marked in English!)

9:00 PM - Home again! The Normandy invasion didn’t turn out like we all had hoped. Shanti Air was formed in July of 1997, specifically to go to this year's World Cup. We did accomplish that goal. The six of us will attend the Cleveland Kite Festival on September 19th and fly Shanti Air Kite Team 1998 one more time for our friends. Some of the team may continue to fly together next season. Maybe as Shanti Air, maybe not!

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Personally, it will be my last team flight for a while. I need to take a break from long distance team practice. It has taken up every single weekend for the last five years now.

I plan to turn over formal command of my ship called "Shanti Air" to Vern Balodis at the Cleveland Kite Festival.

So here comes that question I asked in the very beginning, eight days ago.


Money wise I have spent a bunch, mostly on souvenirs, gifts, food and drink. That's about average for an eight day vacation. The festival organizers have reimbursed us half of our plane fare and about three quarters of our accommodations. Not as cheap as a trip to say Wildwood, NJ, but a fair deal for six actual days in France.

Now comes the most important question. Were the efforts as a sport kite team worth it? We practiced every Sunday since July of 1997 and accumulated over 250 hours of field time. We were a long distance team and that means that we each drove over 11,000 miles to those 75 practices. That is 225 hours of just sitting in a car, going to and returning from practices. This does not count the 9,000 miles and 24 hours of travel for this event.

The team competed in sixteen competitions including this one. We took seven first places, two second places, four third places. We were disqualified twice, both for out of bounds violations and we scored in last place in ballet at this event.

We practiced in five degree and ninety-five degree temperatures. We chipped ice off of our kites to get them to fly. We stood for hours in the field waiting for wind.

I personally listened to our music so many times that I can whistle it and hit the time exactly. The choreography for this routine was almost completely my own, with help and inspiration from Ron Reich, The Chicago Fire, Captain Eddies Flying Circus and Pair of Pairs kite team.

When the team flew this routine and made it work it was like we performed a wonderful magic trick. Spectators were amazed when they
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witnessed the magic happen. Occasionally sport kite judges witnessed that magic and were pleased. Most importantly, when we were at one of those seventy-five practices, cold, or hot, tired and all alone but the six of us... when the routine worked ... when it all came together ... when I saw that magic trick performed by me and my teammates ... that was when I knew that all the hours were well spent. No one needed to applaud, no one needed to give us a good score, no one else even had to be there. Just my teammates and I.

Maybe this six person team will never fly this routine again. I really don’t know that now! But I saw the magic many times. I helped to make it happen.


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Al Hargus - RIP 12/10/06

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