By Michael Hirtzer
OTTAWA, Illinois | Sat Sep 28, 2013 6:51pm EDT
OTTAWA, Illinois (Reuters) - Professional skydiver Brandon Atwood has a strange but essential job while hurtling toward Earth at more than 100 miles per hour: He points a video camera attached to his helmet back up toward the sky while his teammates execute a complex aerial routine.
Without Atwood's contribution, none of the spectators on the ground would be able to see the Arizona Arsenal's winning performance in the four-person vertical formation event at the U.S.
National Skydiving Championships earlier this month, 80 miles southwest of Chicago.
In competitive skydiving, all the action takes place thousands of feet above the ground - too far away for the naked eye to see.
That is a problem for the sport, which has struggled to attract attention while other extreme sports - skateboarding, surfing, BMX biking and snowboarding - have an ESPN television contract for the "X" Games and draw legions of fans.
"As skydivers, we think what we do is the coolest thing ever, but other people see it differently," said Nancy Koreen, director of sports promotion for the U.S. Parachuting Association.
She said interest in skydiving waned after September 11, 2001, and the association's membership, now at 35,400 people, is only 1,000 more than it was in 2000.
There were no corporate sponsorships or prize money at the national championships, and the 10-day event drew only a small crowd at the "drop zone" to watch more than 600 skydivers compete in Ottawa, a town on the Illinois River.