Team Austria during the World Parachuting Championships at the Dubai Marina in Dubai. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Hosts UAE have been touted as strong challengers to former world champions France and the USA as the FAI World Parachuting Championships Mondial 2012, Dubai, got under way on Thursday.

“France is the team to beat, but the UAE have made huge strides in a matter of just one year,” Dalton Samuelson, a member of the US squad said on Thursday.

“Our goal will be to regain the title we lost to France last year, but at the same time we will have to be cautious of the UAE as the squad has shown tremendous improvement in a short period of time,” Samuelson cautioned.

The 28-year-old, who has been a sky-diver for the past ten years, was a member of the championship-winning squad when the US was crowned world champions in North Carolina in 2010. But last year the US lost its crown to France when the competition moved to Switzerland.

“I think France is the serious challenger in the four-way Vertical Formation Skydiving [VFS] and I think the UAE will do well too. I am simply amazed by the growth and progress of the UAE team in such a short period,” the American jumper observed.

He was hopeful of the US team picking up at least four gold medals during the course of the competition. “For sure, the UAE is the next challenger to us after France. I won’t be surprised if the UAE pick up a few medals,” Samuelson said.

Adrien De La Garde De Saignes, who represents France, was pleased with the way his team has been progressing during the build-up to this competition. “For France participation here is really special and we think that Germany and the UAE are among the contenders along with the US,” he remarked.

The French squad consists of 65 jumpers along with a support team of 15 medical and technical staff. “We are looking good for a top medal in the four-way vertical competition, but I also think we stand a chance for another seven medals in the other disciplines,” he added.

Meanwhile, the final touches were being given to host the opening ceremony for the world championship starting at 8pm on Friday. Several top officials and dignitaries are expected to attend the opening.

The FAI World Parachuting Championships Mondial 2012 Dubai has attracted a record of more than 1,600 participants from 57 countries who will be contesting in 13 different categories until December 9.