Related topics

Skydivers Hope Sport May Someday Become the Olympic Cinderella

January 11, 1992

AMPURIABRAVA, Spain (AP) _ Caught between their image as daredevils and their desire for recognition as serious athletes, sky divers have so far failed in their attempt to gain Olympic representation.

Sky diving didn’t make the grade as a demonstration sport at the Barcelona Summer Olympics, and it was passed over as an exhibition sport.

And because of a mishap with the Korean military sky diving team at the 1988 Seoul games, sky diving won’t even be a part of the opening ceremonies in Barcelona July 25 or the closing ceremonies August 9.

But 75 miles northeast of Barcelona, sky diving is indisputably number one. More than 150 jumps are made each day - 45,000 per year - at the Costa Brava parachute center, making it one of the most popular private ″drop zones″ in Europe. ″You can’t beat the weather, can you?″ said Capt. Terry Carroll of Birmingham, England, leader of the British military’s Red Devils Parachute Regiment free-fall team that trains regularly in northeast Spain.

″In the U.K. at the moment, we’d have no chance whatsoever of doing anything. The weather’s no good. But we can pop down here in a couple of hours and do all the jumping we like.″

They come from every continent to sky dive in Ampuriabrava, a small coastal town that sells itself to tourists through adrenalin sports like scuba diving and go-kart racing. But with steady winds, reliable weather and a frisky nightlife nearby, skydiving is king.

The 1989 world skydiving championships were held here, and more than 700 sky divers descend on the town each December for the annual Christmas ″boogie.″

But sky diving aficcionados know their sport must alter its reckless, thrill-seeking image if it’s ever going to win Olympic acceptance.

″Sky diving is not a dangerous sport,″ said Roland Hilfiker, 36, a Swiss entrepreneur who spent nine years jumping over football stadiums and fairgrounds in the United States before opening the parachute center in 1986.

″Cheating death was probably what the sport was all about in the 1960s and 1970s - you know, the whole ‘right stuff’ image - but not anymore. In fact, it’s almost a cliche with us but it’s true: I’ve lost more friends in automobile accidents driving to the drop zone than in actual sky diving accidents.″

According to statistics supplied by the International Parachute Committee (CIP), one accidental sky diving death occurs in every 250,000 jumps. Compared to mortality rates in car accidents (28.35 per 250,000 people), drowning (2.85) or choking to death on food (2.4), stepping out of a plane at 12,500 feet would seem to be the safer course of action.

Juanjo Sanz, 33, an 11-time sky diving champion who now pilots sky diving airplanes, said he no longer even considers death a factor.

″Hundreds of thousands of people jump each year,″ he said. ″But the number of deaths and accidents is too small to even count.″

Hilfiker believes negative publicity from an emergency during the Korean military team’s rehearsal for opening day ceremonies at the 1988 Seoul Olympics put the jinx on sky diving as an Olympic sport of the future.

Sky diving was competing with four other sports to be an exhibition sport in Barcelona when the Korean’s main parachute failed to open and he was obliged to use his emergency chute.

″We’ve got to make people realize this is a sport,″ Hilfiker said. ″We have competitors who complete four, 360-degree turns in 4.7 seconds-it’s a combination of aerodynamics and biomechanics. But the sort of thing Greg Louganis does on a 10-meter diving board is nothing compared to that.″

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has yet to agree, however, meaning Hilfiker and company must continue lobbying international sports officials for another four years. In the meantime, plans are underway for demonstration jumps at the 16 Olympic sub-sites next summer, one week before the start of the games - provided the Barcelona Olympic Organizing Committee (COOB) agrees.

END ADV for Weekend Release Jan. 11-12

Update hourly