As the London Olympics gracefully demonstrated, sporting events have the capacity to serve as a global unifier. And while people coalesce in a single country during the Olympics, one ambitious Texas man is looking to bring his sporting idea to the hometowns of people across the world.
Don Hartsell, founder of the World Air League, is pushing for a global blimp race to begin in 2014. The 18-leg race would start in London and finish sixth months later in Paris, with the blimps traveling about 1,000 miles a day. While the route is not complete, Hartsell's hope is to have the blimps fly by some of the world's most recognizable monuments, including the Statue of Liberty, The Taj Mahal and the Egyptian pyramids.
Hartsell came up with the idea of a global blimp race at age 23, but it wasn't until three decades later that he began seriously planning.
"I started this out with, 'OK, you're at a point in your life where either you can retire or you can do something worthwhile,'" Hartsell told CNN. "I went, 'Are you still crazy?' Then the next question I asked myself was, 'How's your health?' Because to put this together has turned into a large undertaking. Then the third question: 'If not now?' And so with that, it started."
One of the trickiest parts of planning the race is securing sponsorships to help cover the estimated $50 million cost. In fact, a lack of money derailed an attempt at the race which would have begun in 2011. Hartsell is still securing partnerships and collecting donations for the event's $5 million prize money.
If Hartsell can pull off the race, it could have an unprecedented global impact. Whereas the Olympics draw about 5 million people, Hartsell estimates that 140 million people could witness the race. The blimps would fly 2,000 above sea level, and therefore be visible to spectators on the ground.
All told, it's an exciting idea from a passionate man. And while the blimps are still far from getting off the ground, it's clear that Hartsell isn't just full of hot air.
-- Follow Robbie Levin on Twitter @Levin_TPG.