Pal Takats is back!
Eastern Europeans in the lineup include rookie Michal Gierlach, Stanislav Mayer and one athlete whose participation is raising a lot of eyebrows – Pal Takats. (Note to Toma fans – we’ll profile him separately).
Pal Takats is returning to the Red Bull X-Alps eight years after last taking part (for the first and only time) in 2009. His surprise return for the 2017 race is proving to be quite a talking point among fans. When he competed the last time, he finished eighth, some 230km from Monaco. Always an exceptional acro pilot, the last few years have seen him concentrate on that discipline to become one of the world’s best. He also flies acro with paramotors.
There’s no question he’s one of the best pilots, says Cross Country magazine’s editor Ed Ewing, who recalls his performance in 2009. “He was young and hungry and his acro skills were so good it meant he could fly in places others couldn’t. Now, eight years on, he’s not the young unknown acro pilot anymore. He’s now very well known. It’s interesting he’s applied for this. His piloting skills are exceptional, but he’s also had a bad accident.”
In 2012 the Hungarian athlete suffered a serious injury and nearly lost his life, breaking his left leg in several places, compressing his vertebrae and suffering a concussion. It was so serious he spent two weeks in an artificial coma during which he dreamt of fallen friends calling him to the afterlife. “Scary stuff,” he wrote afterwards on his blog.
But that’s all in the past – he’s now older, wiser and looking forward to taking part. “I managed to pull a quite satisfying result for me [in 2009]. For most it was probably quite surprising too to see an acro pilot getting that far,” he tells us.
“Now, after nearly eight years and a couple of broken bones, I'm motivated to come back stronger than ever! I'll do my best to take it to the next level with much more experience, better equipment and better knowledge of flying in the Alps. As long as my body will keep up with my motivation and spirit, I'm sure that I'll be able to make it to the shores of the Mediterranean!”
He says that what attracts him about the race is the improvisation it requires and the strong bond of sportsmanship between athletes. “Besides all the pain and suffering, there are so many special moments and places you get to see,” he adds.
Stanislav Mayer is also back for more; he took part last time around in 2015, reaching Monaco in 12th place in 11d 8h and as a supporter in 2013. But the Czech athlete, who’ll be just shy of his 28th birthday on the startline, started off so well in 2015 that there were many who felt he could make the podium.
He proved he meant business on day one, coming 2nd in the Prologue just one minute behind Paul Guschlbauer. In the early part of the race he hung onto the leaders, chasing Chrigel through the Oetz valley. Since then he’s come 2nd at the X-Pyr and placed 15th at the paragliding world cup, as well as completing the Czech Ironman. “He was brilliant in 2015,” says race watcher Tom Payne. “He’s young and fast.” For sure he will be one to watch in 2017.
Lastly, from Poland is the rookie 31-year-old Michal Gierlach – but he is no amateur, with ten years of competition flying under his belt as well as numerous cross-country outings. He’s been a member of the Polish National Team since 2009 and has been ranked number 1 since 2013. As a pilot he recently completed a 195km FAI triangle and, as the son of two mountain guides, he is no stranger to mountain sports.
“I'm passionate about all outdoor activities,” he tells us. “A while ago I moved to Zakopane, the mountain ‘capital’ of Poland, a town surrounded by the Tatra Mountains. Long hikes, hike&fly, ski-touring trips with my girlfriend and having fun was and is the most important thing for me. Now it’s time for combining those two things in Red Bull X-Alps.”
We can’t wait to see how he gets on.