French, Swiss, USA Teams Lead In Annual Balloon Race

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The annual Gordon Bennett balloon race, the premier event in the small world of gas ballooning, launched in Geneva, Switzerland, last Saturday, with 16 teams competing. With online tracking of each team now available, the competition can be watched by a worldwide audience. The race rules are simple -- whoever lands at a point farthest from the takeoff site, wins. The following year's race then is hosted in the winner's country. By Wednesday, all the teams had landed safely. Preliminary results list a French team in first place, followed by the Swiss, and the U.S. coming in third. Most of the balloons drifted south over the Mediterranean before catching winds that brought them west over Spain and Portugal. Three teams landed in Algeria, on the northern coast of Africa.

During the race, British pilots Janet Folkes and Ann Rich set a new world record for the longest flight ever by a female team in a gas balloon. Several of the teams flew more than 600 miles and stayed aloft for over 80 hours. The first Gordon Bennett race was held in Paris in 1906, and most races since have been held in Europe, though in 1999 and 2008, Albuquerque, N.M., was the host city.