Let’s Hear from James Rogers after His Smashing Nationals Victory
The U.S. Freestyle champion spoke with ISS about his three gold medals, the upcoming World Championships, judging, and the state of tunnel flying.
The 2022 U.S. Indoor Skydiving National Championships couldn’t have gone better for James Rogers of Tampa, Florida. The 18-year-old tunnel flyer topped the scoreboard in three separate events—Freestyle Open, Solo Speed Open, and Best Trick—every event he could’ve competed in as a soloist.
Though Rogers has been to the past four or five Nationals, he said this was by far his best showing. “I’ve never got all golds in all solo disciplines,” he said. “Last year I won Freestyle and [my team won] 4-way Dynamic, and [we] got silver in 2-way Dynamic.”
Rogers felt this triple-gold performance was possible largely because of the immense focus he put on individual events leading up to the competition. “This year I really decided to focus and train my individual flying, really practice and work on myself with that in mind, specifically. So this Nationals I only flew in individual events.” Team events, he added, are much more difficult to coordinate, and as a result, can be a large time sink and detract from training individually.
All told, Rogers said he was extremely impressed with the experience at Nationals, which was held for the first time at iFLY Colorado Springs, one of America’s newest tunnels. “The management clearly did their best to make this the best comp possible,” he said. “Things just went smoothly throughout the event. They really put in the work.”
Preparing for the 2023 FAI World Championship of Indoor Skydiving
Rogers’ victory makes him one of the American flyers eligible for the 2023 FAI World Championship of Indoor Skydiving, to be held next April at Hurricane Factory in the Czech Republic. Rogers competed in his first World Cup last year, with his Aspire 4-way Dynamic team taking second place. He placed eighth in Solo Freestyle, though was the highest-ranking American in the event.
He said that this year he’s prepared for much stiffer competition, as World Championships tend to attract a wider and stronger pool of flyers. “There’ll probably be more competitors, and higher level competitors,” he said. “Everybody’s been training hard. It’s a big event.”
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To prepare, Rogers has been flying in the tunnel over five hours a week this year, and before comps training even more than that. He also plans to travel to Hurricane Factory a couple of weeks ahead of the competition to familiarize himself with the tunnel.
He said that this before-comp tunnel prep is crucial. For example, the Nationals event tunnel at iFLY Colorado Springs, while a standard 14-foot tunnel, is much higher than traditional iFLY models, with a 40-foot viewing chamber. Rogers said he tried to incorporate this into his Nationals routine as much as possible, “taking stuff higher, trying to use the entire space in my routine through the comp.”
Issues with Indoor Skydiving Judging
When asked about judging at Nationals and last year’s World Cup, Rogers admitted that there have been a few controversies in recent years. Judging in indoor skydiving is still a relatively fluid enterprise, and there is little oversight in how scores are calculated.
Fellow American flyer Sydney Kennett—who placed second in Solo Freestyle in Nationals—alluded to this in a post-World Cup interview with ISS. “Unfortunately, I know that my routine had much more difficulty than what was represented by the difficulty scores and that, unfortunately, [made] the difference in our results,” she said.
“Every year, the tension caused by the fact that no one has any idea how [scores] are calculated—unlike say, gymnastics where the difficulty per trick is written down in black and white—continues to grow. It used to be that one or two athletes were not happy. This year, it was just about all of them. All of the competitors thought the difficulty scores were completely off base. We continue to fight for a code of scores or list of tricks with difficulty for indoor skydiving, because people are getting tired of it and it turns so many people off to Freestyle, which is unfortunate.”
Rogers said that despite this, he feels things are improving dramatically in the United States, at least. “There definitely is some flak on the judging occasionally, but recently the U.S. has made it a big goal to make more actual flyers judge these events,” he said. “I mean, it’s simple. If you’re someone who’s [flown] before and who’s in [the sport] currently, you’ll be able to judge better than someone who isn’t.” Recently U.S. Nationals has incorporated experienced judges. At the 2020 Nationals in El Paso, several pro flyers judged, including former World Champion Inka Tiitto.
“At this Nationals in Colorado Springs,” said Rogers, “they had Reese Wilson, well-known tunnel flyer who’s also a previous national champion, and the current Freestyle World Champions for skydiving—Jake Carlton and Jason Brigmon—actually judged this U.S. Nationals, too. Basically, people are starting to realize that it’s important to have people who actually fly and are in the community start to judge.”
In the past, Rogers said, “there have definitely been some times where there’s been judges that have never really flown in the tunnel … some who literally just went through the FAI course and became a judge with little to no experience. There have been some calls where even the people who won didn’t agree with the calls made at the competition. This past World Cup was an example of that, but then again, a bit of that goes on in every sport, I’d imagine.” Rogers said he believes that as the U.S. improves, international competitions will continue to improve as well.
Indoor Skydiving as a Launchpad for Regular Skydiving
Rogers turned 18 in May, so he’s recently started skydiving outside in addition to tunnel flying. He says that tunnel flying is perhaps the best possible training for outdoor skydiving, and that his extensive experience in tunnels has made it possible for him to even keep up with outdoor flyers who have a wealth more experience in the sky than him.
“I honestly think that the tunnel is for sure the greatest tool for skydiving,” he said. “If you think about it, [it’s] essentially a treadmill for freefall. You can fly for as long as you want. It helped me a lot in the transition to skydiving. There are obviously the factors outside of the flying part—the skydiving canopy stuff, for example—but as far as the flying goes, I’ve transferred into that very easily. I can keep up with skydivers that have 10,000 jumps, just from my flying experience in the tunnel.”
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Rogers just graduated high school, so now has the time and energy to train full-time in the tunnel. In his free time, he’s also begun coaching at iFLY, and was recently put on their dedicated coaches list, allowing him to coach at any iFLY in the world. “They made this list to make the safety aspect of coaching better,” he said, “after a few accidents in the past where maybe someone was coaching who shouldn’t have been.”
For now, Rogers hopes to continue skydiving and tunnel flying as much as possible and plans to compete in his first (outdoor) skydiving competition next year. “As far as work goes, I’ll always coach in the tunnel and the sky,” he said, “and I’m also interested in real estate.” He also is looking to become experienced with as many facets of flying as possible, taking a rigging course in January to become a master rigger. Rogers added that he also tentatively plans to get his private pilot’s license in the future, as well. “Basically, I want to learn everything that goes into skydiving and flying,” he said, “learning how to do your own stuff—repairs, harnessing, all of it.”
“The more you learn about this sport, the safer you can be.”
Published: January 18, 2023 | Last Updated: January 23, 2023
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