While the U.S. Olympians were making headlines in Rome last month, a small band of sporting pioneers was winning athletic honors and friends for America behind the Iron Curtain. The occasion was the fifth world parachuting championships, in which sky-divers from 12 nations competed at Sofia, Bulgaria.
The American team in this new sport consisted of two women and four men, one of whom, Dick Fortenberry, took off from a height of 6,600 feet to land in the center of a target for the first zero (i.e., right on the bull's-eye) leap ever made in world competition. Dick dislocated his elbow on the next jump, however, and had to withdraw, leaving it up to his teammate, Jim Arender, to defend the national honor. A 20-year-old Army paratroop sergeant with just 15 months of jumping experience, Arender stepped from a Russian biplane high above Sofia, opened his chute and executed a near-perfect pattern of body turns and rolls. His two jumps totaled 449.5 points, three more than his nearest rival. The result: a gold medal for Jim Arender in the style event and the first world parachute championship ever won for the U.S.