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Skydiver aims for world title

Few people can lay claim to being the best in the world at something, but Carbondale resident Lisa Olsen hopes to be able to say it for a second time.

Olsen, 43, has come out of retirement to try to win another World Championship in skydiving. She won her first title in 1988 while competing from her native Canada.

She will compete in the accuracy and style events in the nationals on June 5-10 at Orange, Mass., with an eye on making the U.S. Parachute Team for the October World Championship in Japan.

Accuracy is where Olsen makes her mark. In competition, divers take 10 jumps from about 3,500 feet in altitude, open their chutes at different levels, then try to plant their heel on a 3-inch diameter target while coming down at a speed of about 18 mph.

Competitors lose points for each centimeter they are off from the target.

To a layman, it sounds like trying to hit a needle in a haystack. To Olsen, anything less than eight dead centers at the World Championship sounds like failure.

“I want a total of less than 20 centimeters [off] in 10 jumps,” she said.

In the style competition, competitors jump five times from about 7,500 feet in altitude, then go through a series of defined maneuvers before opening their chutes.

After jumping, they get into a small ball and tumble at about 130 to 140 mph for 15 seconds before going through the routine.

“I always had the idea that skydiving was like floating like a bird, but it’s really much more violent,” said Olsen. “Air is a force to be reckoned with.”

But she shrugs off a suggestion that tumbling through the air at high speed and banking on a parachute, or its backup, to save her life seems a bit frightening. Everything has its risks, says Olsen, an emergency room nurse at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

She has done about 2,500 jumps since getting into the sport while attending the University of Alberta. And she rarely thinks about the danger, particularly during competition.

“The last thing I’m thinking about while I’m jumping out of an airplane is I might die,” Olsen said. “I’m thinking I’ve got to do this, this, this and this and I’ve got to do them well.”

Living in the mountains means Olsen makes an even greater commitment to skydiving than do most of her competitors. She must always travel to get in her training. She regularly goes to facilities in Colorado’s Front Range or Utah. Last winter, she mixed in intensive training trips to Arizona and Florida.

In Colorado, Olsen pays to use a “drop zone” operated by Front Range

Skydivers in the town of Calhan, northeast of Colorado Springs. A Cessna takes up a dozen or so divers who are often practicing different disciplines.

She’s made about 100 jumps this year. Her totals, both this year and for her career, are nothing close to those logged by some of her competitors. Top competitors from the U.S. military, for example, have roughly 13,000 jumps under their belts.

But lack of training time didn’t hamper Olsen in 1988, when she won the accuracy competition on the final jump by nudging out two women from China.

“I compete better than I practice,” Olsen said. And at competition, she tries to excel at mental preparation.

“You have to be so clear that you’re the best person to win that medal,” said Olsen. “That attitude is the hard thing.”

Olsen is essentially on her own as a competitor. The World Championship in 2000 is the first half of her two-year competitive plan. Next year, she hopes to compete in the World Air Games in Grenada, Spain. That event, she said, is essentially the Olympics of air sports.

She is hoping to raise $10,000 in sponsorships and contributions for the two years of competition. The funds will go toward her travel and training. She has invested about $4,000 of her money in gear.

To help, contact Olsen at 759 Lincoln Ave., Carbondale, CO 81623, or call her at (970) 963-9104.


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