And the 2016 World Hot Air Balloon Champion is...

DSC03366 rszRhett Heartsill (USA) is the 2016 World Hot Air Balloon Champion!

After ten days of competition at the 22nd FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Saga, Japan, Rhett Heartsill bested 104 of the world’s best competitors from 31 countries. The competition included nine flights and 31 tasks.




The Top 10 competitors are:

R. Name Points

Rhett Heartsill (USA)

26 160


Rimas Kostiuskevicius (LTU)

23 907


Stefan Zeberli (SUI)

22 609


Nicolas Schwartz (FRA)

22 515


Roman Hugi (SUI)

22 366


Dominic Bareford (GBR)

22 313


Sergey Latypov (RUS)

22 235


Masafumi Sato (JPN)

22 148


John Petrehn (USA)

21 883


Rokas Kostiuskevicius (LTU)

21 644

Defending Champion Yudai Fujita (JPN) finished in 11th place with 21 638 points. 2014 and 2016 Women’s World Champion Nicola Scaife (AUS) finished in 41st place with 17 612 points.

Heartsill entered the final flight with a 2 515 point lead over Stefan Zeberli (SUI). Event Director Les Purfield (GBR) set a five-task flight: Task 27: Fly In (FIN), Task 28: Judge Declared Goal (JDG), Task 29: Pilot Declared Goal (PDG), Task 30: JDG, Task 31 Fly On (FON).

With 5 000 points available, and 14 competitors within striking reach, Heartsill could not simply sit on his lead. In Task 27, his 2.43 meter performance earned him 802 points, somewhat below his 852 points per task average in previous tasks. In Task 28, 1.22 m earned 801 points, again, below his average and allowing others to close the gap. Task 29 required competitors to achieve a result less than 100 meter to achieve a result. Heartsill avoided potential disaster with a 94.40 meter performance but only earned 660 points. While he maintained 1st place through the first three tasks, the opportunity was there for others to gain points and positions. In Task 30, Heartsill rebounded with a 2.45 meter performance for an above average 980 points. In Task 31, he completed the last task of the competition with a 2.26 meter performance for 926 points. In summary, he gave up a few points in the first three tasks of Flight 9 but closed with two above points per task average performances in the last two tasks.

The graphic below shows Heartsill maintaining first place for 20 tasks. It also shows how other competitors moved into, out of and within the Top 10. Only a few competitors in the Top 10 after early tasks managed to stay in the Top 10 when competition ended.

Graphic Garry_Lockyer

The USA, Lithuania and Switzerland had two finishers in the Top 10. The USA appears to be the dominant nation with 5 finishers in the Top 20 followed by Japan with 3.

Joe Heartsill won the World Championship in 1995 – Rhett’s win created the first father-son World Hot Air Balloon Championship duo that I’m aware of.

The 22nd FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship was superbly organized by the Saga International Balloon Fiesta Organization led by Hiroshi Mizumachi and the Competition Operations Team led by Event Director Les Purfield and Deputy Event Director Hiromori Soejima, to the extremely high level of professionalism and detail that we have come to expect at events in Japan.

This is the fourth time the World Hot Air Balloon Championship has been held in Japan and the third time in Saga. Previous events in Saga were in 1989 and 1997 and at Motegi in 2006.

Additional information about the Saga International Balloon Fiesta can be found here. Detailed information about the 22nd FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship, including results as the competition progresses, can be found here.

The 23rd FAI Hot Air Balloon Championship will be held in Austria from August 18 through 26, 2018.

Additional information about the Saga International Balloon Fiesta can be found here.

Graphic by Garry Lockyer
Photo on top: The complete podium / Photo Credits: Lindsay Muir