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Did You Know...

... that there are only a few undefeated world champions?

posted Aug 9th, 2013 - The last Arizona Airspeed lineup that won the gold medals at the Mondial Dubai 2012 trained and competed together only for two years.

Mark Kirkby, Thomas Hughes, Niklas Hemlin and Josh Hall, with Bill Schmitz on camera, never lost an outdoor competition in this 2-year period. NMP-PCH Hayabusa outscored Airspeed at the World Challenge and finished one single point behind in Dubai. That was close but not enough.

Niklas Hemlin, Josh Hall and Bill Schmitz then retired from Airspeed as undefeated 4way world champions. The Sun Path Products NSL News took a closer look at undefeated world champions for the latest Blue Skies Mag edition.

Turning Points: Undefeated

Breaking up is hard to do. It is probably one of the most difficult things to do in sports, especially if you are on the top of the world. It was peak time, the sponsors are standing in line to sign you up for the next year or two. And then you call it quits?

It does not happen very often that world champions retire as the reigning champions. I remember a few Golden Knights who sold their gear after winning 8-way gold medals. I would have to dig deep into the archives to find 4-way world champions who did not come back to defend their gold medals.

There are enough examples of 4-way world champions who came back and won again—or not. It seems to be the easier thing to do, and the right thing to do at the same time. There is nothing more exciting in sports than challenging the defending champions, or to fend off the charging challenger.

Undefeated and retired world champions: Bill Schmitz - Niklas Hemlin - Josh Hall
It must require a lot of guts to retire when you are at the peak in your career. It also seems to be the best thing to do, just in a very different way; it must be nice to have a glorious victory after a peak performance as the lasting memory of your time in the sport. But it must be so incredibly hard to stop when you feel so good about your own performance.

We have two recent examples in our sport. Arizona Airspeed members Niklas Hemlin and Josh Hall both competed once for the U.S. at the World Championship of Formation Skydiving at Mondial 2012 and then stepped back. Their careers with Airspeed were even more impressive considering the fact that they were never defeated in any 4-way outdoor competition between the starting point of the 2011 season and winning the 4-way gold medals in Dubai 2012. They joined Airspeed in 2011 and left Arizona undefeated in December 2012 after attending nine competitions.

Natasha Montgomery was another example not too long ago. She won gold medals at her first World Championship of Formation Skydiving in 2006 and did not come back to try again. Joey Jones also competed only once at a World Championship in 2004 and won gold medals with DeLand Majik. His three team members (Doug Park, Solly Williams and Gary Smith) tried again to win national championships in following years, while Joey Jones retired for good.

Undefeated and retired world champion: Gary Smith
DeLand Majik member Gary Smith retired after winning two gold medals with two different teams, DeLand Majik in 2004 and then again with DeLand Fire in 2006. Neither DeLand Majik nor DeLand Fire was defeated while Gary Smith was competing with both teams. However, looking back at two consecutive 4-way gold medals as the last memories of the active time in the sport is a nice thing, and his two sons will like the story. Gary Smith is now trying to win a gold medal as a coach for Belgium's national team NMP-PCH Hayabusa.

The Airspeed story is far from over, sorry for the detour. Two undefeated Airspeed members have retired, however there are still two undefeated members around. Mark Kirkby and Thomas Hughes are taking it even farther and will try to keep their winning streak going.

I have lost track of the number of gold medals that Mark Kirkby has won in his career. It is still even unique for him that he is in an Airspeed lineup that has never been defeated yet in an outdoor competition. Thomas Hughes had never won a 4-way gold medal at a World Championship of Formation Skydiving before traveling to Dubai with Airspeed last year. He has also never lost a 4-way outdoor competition with Airspeed so far.

Undefeated world champion with Arizona Airspeed: Thomas Hughes (right)
Mark Kirkby and Thomas Hughes will try to carry this unique achievement forward as long as they can and ideally turn it into the next 4-way gold medals in Prostejov next year. They have two new team members who have now started their own series of Airspeed victories. Chris Farina and Thiago Gomes won their first two outdoor meets (Valentine's Meet - Paraclete XP Outdoor Championship) this year with the new lineup and are also undefeated Airspeed members. The two first places this year have brought the streak for Mark Kirkby and Thomas Hughes to a total of 11 consecutive outdoor victories. That's unique, no doubt.

However, the biggest challenges are still ahead for this Airspeed lineup, and it's a long road to the next gold medals in Prostejov 2014. Hayabusa, the new French lineup, Sky Panthers from Russia and Evolution from Canada each can't wait to become the first team to stop the two undefeated 4-way world champions with their two new undefeated team members.

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