Felix Baumgartner seems to be one of those guys willing to go to any extreme for attention.
Today, the Austrian skydiver is in Rio de Janeiro after speaking engagements Saturday in L.A. and Salt Lake City — reports are he took a plane to each stop but stayed on board the entire time. His presence was requested by the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation, as he’s up for its World Action Sportsperson of the Year award given out Monday night.
Nominees for Laureus Awards include Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi, Allyson Felix, Missy Franklin, Lindsey Vonn and Serena Williams.
That group, however, is part of the honorees for the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year. Baumgartner didn’t quite break into that category, but he’s humbled just the same.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be nominated,” he said during a press conference today. “I’ve always looked up to the guys who have won in the past – some of the world’s best athletes. I always wanted to be like them, but it never happened.”
What did happen to him, if you’ll recall, has to do with a 24-mile leap of faith he took last Oct. 14.
Lifted by a helium balloon into the stratosphere, the 44-year-old nicknamed “Fearless Felix” became part-astronaut, full-fledged thrill seeker, with limited oxygen supply.
His jump from the perch of the capsule broke the sound barrier on the way down as he reached speeds of more than 830 miles per hour. He opened his chute after about four minutes into a free fall that spun him practically out of control, but then glided about nine minutes total, landing feet-first in the New Mexico desert.
It’s all on that Red Bull commercial you often see, or the longer version that’s also got more than 33 million views on YouTube:
Baumgartner’s competition in the Action Sports category is BMX rider Jamie Bestwick, mountain biker Julie Bresset, surfers Stephanie Gilmore and Joel Parkinson, and windsurfer Philip Köster.
All have lived to tell about what they did in 2012 to lift them to these new heights. But it’s tough to beat Baumgartner’s tale, as he explains the after-affects of it in a Q-and-A with the media and Laureus.com in Brazil today:
Q: You’ve always been a base jumper, breaking records. But you gained world notoriety when you broke the sound barrier. How much of your life has changed since that event?
A: Well, I’m still the same person. But now, I’m constantly touring around the world, delivering speeches. And, of course, now I’m receiving emails from young people, most of them saying that they were so thankful to see me jump because that was their own personal moon landing.
Q: Everyone has a voice in their head that makes us second-guess anything we do. For you, what training is required to ignore those types of second-guessing in order for you to prepare for your record-breaking jump? And at any time prior to your jump, did that voice in your head come up?
A: I think I have an understanding of the risks I was taking. The way my mind works is talking to the right people. When I work on something, I try to listen and learn to these people. I have a lot of skills and discipline and a vision to not let loose until I reach the point where I think it’s a successful mission. The difference between other jumps and the jump to break the speed of sound is that in other jumps, you’re going from zero to zero. With this jump, there was a lot of testing, with the precious suit, from low altitude to high altitude. There was a lot of wind tunnel testing with the suit. We simulated what the temperature would be like in the capsule according to altitude. I learned when it was time to make certain changes to the valves and press the right buttons. After that, we sent the capsule up two times, unmanned, so I would know if everything was working well. We had other tests with me inside sitting in the capsule. By the time we were ready to launch, I pretty much covered all of the unknown. The biggest unknown that remained was breaking the speed of sound. That was the only thing I didn’t know. Everything else, I practiced. So preparation is key.
Q: What is next? How can you possibly top this?
A: That’s what everybody is wondering, you know? I always said that if this was successful, I have to move on to something else because I’m 44 years old now. I’ve done a lot of difficult base jumps in my life. So I’m pretty much done with base jumping. So in order to get the next big number, the goal would be to go twice as fast as the speed of sound. And that’s so much more difficult, it would require so much more work. So I will leave that to the next generation.
I’ve always had two dreams when I was a little kid. One was to be a skydiver. The other was to become a helicopter pilot. I’ve been a commercial pilot for the last six years. In the future, I would like to use my skills for public service and work as an operating pilot.
Q: Do you think you can have a normal life — get married, have children — or are you the type of person who would get bored easily?
A: I do have a normal life. Just because I broke the speed of sound doesn’t mean that I’m a different person. Of course, I would like to have kids because I think it’s important to pass on the knowledge I have. There are so many great people whom I’ve met for the last 25 years. There must be something after me. The reason why I don’t have kids is that my friends who don’t have kids always tell me that they are the most important thing in your life. I know it will be the same for me. And that’s the reason why I had to stay away from it because when you’re standing on top of the world, you cannot be sidetracked by thinking about your kids.
Q: You are being nominated for a sports award. That said, do you consider yourself an athlete?
A: Of course I consider myself an athlete because I’m doing the same things that athletes do. I train and I have to be disciplined. There’s no difference between what I do and what a runner or any other athlete does. It’s all with the same principles.
Q: You attended a project visit today and met with kids earlier today. What was that experience like?
A: I think it’s important to inspire a generation. Some people need it because I feel that younger generations are lost. They spend too much time on the computer, too much time on Facebook or too much time wrapped up in something else.
More on Laureus and its mission to help children around the world through sports from a story we did with Marcus Allen and Edwin Moses in 2011 at this link.
For a complete list of nominees: www.laureus.com