Mervyn dives to victory for Australia

For those who love high adrenaline sports, sky diving has to be one of the most exhilarating events to take part in, and certainly not for the faint hearted. Imagine being dropped from a plane at 13.5 k feet and soaring your way to safety on the ground. Last Wednesday, in Prostejove, in the Czech Republic, the 5th FAI World Cup of Speed sky diving competition took place.
Speed skydiving is a skydiving competition in which the goal is to achieve and maintain the highest possible terminal velocity. It was developed in the late 1990s and is the fastest non-motorized sport on Earth. The speed, achieved by the human body in free fall, is a function of several factors; including the body’s mass, orientation, and skin area and texture.[1] In stable, belly-to-earth position, terminal velocity is about 200 km/h (120 mph). Stable freefall head down position has a terminal speed of 240–290 km/h (around 150–180 mph). Further minimization of drag by streamlining the body allows for speeds over 500 km/h (310 mph).
Speed Skydiving is a competition discipline within the sport of Skydiving. The com-petition objective is for the competitors to fly their body as fast as possible to achieve the highest average vertical speed through a 3 second window.
The speed is measured using a Speed Measuring Device (SMD) worn on the competitor’s helmet. The current technology used to measure the speed is GPS technology using the FlySight device ( Previously (see below) barometric measuring devices were used.
The competitors exit from the competition aircraft between 13,000ft and 14,000ft (3,962m to 4,267m). Each competitor then turns 90° from the direction in which the aircraft is travelling, alternately left and right. The competitors then accelerate by flying head-first towards the earth, only slowing down once they have passed the 7,400ft competition window from their exit altitude. The score is the average vertical speed in km/h of the fastest 3 second which the competitor achieves within the competition window. And if that sounds scary to you, it’s because it certainly is…to me, in any case!
But for those who love the sport, it’s just another day in the office. And on Wednesday, the Australian team took the gold medal from the Germans and the USA took third place. The winners were in bronze medal position after Monday’s two jumps and on Tuesday, they took over the silver medal position from the USA. They then took over the gold medal position after the first jump Wednesday morning from the Germans by 20 points but after the second jump they relinquished the lead to the Germans by 4.9 points. A nail-biting competition to be sure, but on the last jump they beat the Germans by 14 points to reclaim the Gold with the Germans in Silver and the USA in Bronze. Excitement was great among the team, since the previous year in Arizona, they had taken the bronze. All very exciting stuff and highly entertaining for spectators of the sport.
Those on the winning team were Shane Turner, Natisha Dingle, and the only Irishman, Mervyn O’Connell.
Mervyn hails originally from County Cork but has been living and working in Australia for the past 8 years and before that he was on the Irish team here. He broke his two legs at different times over the last few years skydiving and he still has a full steel pin in one of his legs. Not that his past accidents had in any way put him off his love of skydiving.! Mervyn, a Data and Analytics Manager with International (APAC & EMEA) at Allegion, was back in Ireland last weekend for a family christening, having driven through the night to get home from Munich. He explained the competition process to me. “Each country holds its own heats at national level and that’s what decides the team to go forward to the World Championship. The three of us on the Australian team won a first, second and third place at the nationals. So, we qualified to go on to the World Championships in Czechoslovakia this year. One of our teammates, Natisha Dingle, is now the fastest female competitor in the world” he said, proudly. “She set five world records, and the team set four”. Mervyn started skydiving in 2011 in University College Cork. “I’d have to bus, or thumb my way to Edenderry, County Offaly, home of Irish skydiving and parachuting club.” The Irish team took titles in Formation in the junior category in Bedford, UK from 2013 to 2015, in the indoor skydiving arena, so he is no stranger to the sport. I couldn’t resist asking him about the possible dangers. “Well, the fatality rate is low” As a parent, I felt only slightly reassured! “But the risk is high” he added. “But all the risks are mitigated by strict safety standards and rules that must be adhered to, otherwise, you’re asking for trouble”. Emergency procedures are reviewed, and gear checks are done before every jump. Mervyn went on “You’re jumping at around 13.5 k feet, at speed until about 5.6 k, and pulling the parachute at 3.5 k, so adhering to the safety rules is vital”.
He returns to Europe this week and will try to do as many solo skydiving competitions as he can, but he is also working. He returns to Australia in October. He awaits more surgery but hopes to be ready for next year’s competition, which will be held over the Dead Sea in Israel. “It’s the lowest drop zone in the world, 1400 feet below sea level” he told me with some excitement!
His parents and his family in Cork are justifiably proud of his achievements. His father, John, estate manager at Slí Eile in Churchtown said “It’s a huge honour for us for Mervyn to win this title. Winning gold is always a big achievement, in any sport. We’re incredibly proud of him and delighted that he has reached the ultimate goal of his skydiving career….so far, anyway!”
We congratulate Mervyn and his team on this remarkable achievement in winning a World Title and wish him all the best in his future ventures, in the sky or on solid ground!