Japan Wins 2014 World Hot Air Balloon Championships
After a thrilling week of competitive ballooning, Yudai Fujita of Japan claimed the title of World Hot Air Balloon Champion in Rio Claro, Brazil.
The 21st FAI Championship included 23 "tasks" that tested 58 pilots from more than 20 countries including the USA, Japan, Germany, Russia, Germany and more.
Team USA included several former World Champions and multiple U.S. National Champions. 42-Andy BAIRD 43-Harold CLIVER 44-Joe HEARTSILL 45-Rhett HEARTSILL 46-Brandon HEAVIN 47-Gary HEAVIN 48-Tod ISLEY 49-Andrew PETRHEN 50-Johnny PETREHN 51-Paul PETREHN
The Americans were extremely competitive scoring first on several individual tasks including former champion Joe Heartsill who climbed to a close third by Wednesday.
High winds and storms forced officials to cancel Thursday's flights leaving Friday as the last major opportunity to score.
Friday dawned with cloudy skies but the pilots still launched despite the gloomy weather and challenging winds.
Ultimately, nothing could slow down Fujita with 17,443 points. Uwe Schneider of Germany captured second with 16,216 and hometown hero Lupercio Lima of Brazil claimed third place with 16,064 points.
Heartsill dropped to 8th with 15092 points. His son Rhett made the top ten with 14717. The point spread tightened up with Andy Baird at 12th and Paul Petrehn a mere 36 points behind.
Todd Isley finished in 16th place with 13993, Johnny Petrehn landed at 22nd with 13272, Texan Harold Cliver claimed 26th with 12435 points. Mark Sullivan and Gary Heavin ended their finals run with 10186 and 10075 respectively.
While Team USA thoroughly enjoyed the Brazilian hospitality and the gorgeous landscape, their attention now shifts to the U.S. National Championships in Longview, Texas July 29 - August 3.