Hannes Arch (AUT)
Hannes Arch‘s motto is: “Respect, accept, and always stay grounded.” But staying grounded is easier said than done considering that the Austrian-born athlete has made his career by climbing the world‘s highest mountains, jumping off the tallest buildings, and performing gravity-defying aerobatic maneuvers hundreds of feet above the ground.
In 2000, Hannes combined his business savvy with his love of extreme sports to form his own production and stunt coordination company Airpro GmbH. Specializing in aerial film and TV productions, the company quickly attracted a roster of high profile clients, including renowned fashion designer and filmmaker Willy Bogner. Bogner hired Airpro to make an Audi fly for a scene in the critically acclaimed IMAX film “Ski to the Max.” Hannes coordinated the spectacular stunt by rigging the automobile to the world‘s largest sport paraglider.
A few years later, Hannes again made his mark on the paragliding scene by organizing a grueling international competition known as the Red Bull X-Alps. The competition challenged the world‘s most elite paragliding pilots to cross the Alps from Austria to Monaco entirely by air or foot in a race against the clock. The event utilized advanced media technology and a live GPS tracking system, so fans could follow the race online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The event quickly gained a reputation as one of the world‘s toughest adventure races and already returned for its third year in 2007.
Despite his growing business, Hannes continued to push his own career as an athlete. In 2000, he joined forces with Ueli Gegenschatz to become the first to dare a B.A.S.E. jump from the imposing 1800-metre high north face of the Eiger, one of the most daunting peaks in the Swiss Alps. In 2003, Arch and Gegenschatz teamed up once again to conquer yet another north face, that of the Matterhorn – again downwards. The extreme sportsmen had only two seconds to open their parachutes during the jump, which is infamous for having the highest “exit” in Europe.
How does the surprisingly down-to-earth guy balance a career as an extreme athlete and a businessman? “In the end it is all about being honest, staying grounded and staying true to myself,” he says. “I try to strike a balance between doing things I love and working on projects I believe in. My heart has to be in everything that I do.”
After having sensationally won the Red Bull Air Race World Championship 2008 in only his second season in the sport thanks to a lightning-quick plane and spectacular manoeuvres, the 42-year-old Austrian was able to pick up where he left off with victory at the traditional season opener in Abu Dhabi (UAE). Strong performances in San Diego (USA/3rd place) and Windsor (CAN/2nd place) followed, but world championship rival Bonhomme was himself in the form of his life and remained hard on the heels of Arch as the Series returned to Europe in August. A controversial fourth place in Budapest (HUN) meant that Bonhomme was able to pass Arch in the overall standings for the first time in 2009, leaving the Briton leading the table with just two races to go. The penultimate stop of the Series in Porto (POR) saw the two world championship favourites battle it out head-to-head in a fascinating duel eventually won by Bonhomme, stretching his lead over Arch in the standings and more or less securing the British pilot his first ever world title. At the season finale in Barcelona (ESP) Arch was forced to go all out if he was to have any chance of becoming the first pilot in the history of the Red Bull Air Race to successfully defend his title.
However, his efforts were to no avail. Bonhomme, so often forced to settle for second place in the past, kept his nerves to win in front of hundreds of thousands of fans and crown himself Red Bull Air Race World Champion for the very first time.