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2014 USPA Nationals - A Weekender’s Perspective

By adminon - Read 4609 times

Photo by Ori Kuper | USPA | SDC

This was my 4th year at USPA Nationals (and my 3rd at Skydive Chicago), so when I rolled up to Skydive Chicago on September 12, the day before 4-way FS was scheduled to start, I knew the drill. Get there early in the day before the registration lines get too long. Receive and dispense hugs from your friends from around the country, some of whom you only ever see at Nationals. Manifest for a couple of low-key “get the butterflies out” jumps with your team before chilling out until the briefing and draw that night.

Except this year, Mother Nature had different plans. The first two days of Nationals had brought the miserable weather the Midwest is sometimes known for. The dropzone was full of maudlin vertical formation skydiving (VFS) and mixed formation skydiving (MFS) competitors, so some of those hugs were of the “Awww, I feel your pain” variety, as friends who’d trained all year were facing the possibility of weather truncating their competition to only a couple of jumps.
The only competition going on was on the ground, with a friendly game of Four Square taking place outside, and a more competitive ($5 buy in) game of Corn Hole inside the hangar. Practice jumps on Friday were out of the question, so we went to bed with those butterflies holding strong, with their only to be exorcised on the first competition jump.

Never fear, though, both Mother Nature and the meet management delivered on Saturday morning, with skies dawning clear (and pretty cold), and five Twin Otters ready to go to get not only the 10 4-way VFS and 10 2-way MFS teams in the air, but also get the Nationals’ largest event, 4-way FS (with its 56 teams) rolling.

Photo by Ori Kuper | USPA | SDC

Pausing for a moment to acknowledge what it takes to keep five Otters turning for two days straight, it’s hard not to be impressed by what the host DZs (and the supporting meet team from USPA) pull off every year, even with perfect weather. It’s a massive undertaking, and each time I compete, I’m impressed with how seamlessly it all seems to work (at least from the competitors’ perspective). I know that behind the scenes there’s a giant group of people working long hours to make sure that every part of the operations, from the judging stations to the fuel trucks to the toilets are working as they need to.

Five Otters doing two passes per load means a jump run roughly every 2 ½ minutes. Skydive Chicago has a giant landing area, and the winds were favorable for parallel jump runs that still put most if not all of the jumpers in a good position for a safe on-field landing every time. Over my 10 jumps there, I only recall one or two times that we had a delay on jump run for traffic and spacing, and only one off landing (and that might’ve had as much to do with a slightly low pull as with the spot).

Photo by Ori Kuper | USPA | SDC

Saturday and Sunday brought two near-perfect days of weather, providing Meet Director Bill Wenger with almost enough of a window to complete the full competition for 4-way VFS and 2-way MFS. There was a heroic amount of scheduling Tetris taking place to alternate rounds of the two disciplines, especially considering there was quite a bit of competitor overlap. The vertical flyers competed at an atypical pace for Nationals, collectively agreeing that they’d rather accept shorter-than-required calls for the opportunity to get most or all of the competition rounds in. Saturday ended with MFS finishing five of its scheduled six rounds, and VFS finishing seven of eight, with the winners recognized at a medal ceremony Saturday night.

At the same time, all of the 4-way FS competitors got through half their scheduled 10 rounds on Saturday, setting the competition up for an easy finish on Sunday with the predicted great weather. Sunday dawned clear and a hair warmer and a great day of weather allowed the 4-way FS competition to finish up. As Sunday’s jumps wrapped up in the early afternoon, both in the Open and Intermediate categories the race for Bronze came down to the final jump, with a crowd of competitors gathering around the monitors in the hangar to watch the judging of Round 10 live to see who would go home with a medal.

Photo by Ori Kuper | USPA | SDC

Speaking of medals, one of the best parts of Nationals is the awards ceremonies, which are scattered throughout the event as each discipline finishes up. There usually aren’t any surprises in the medals – the standings were set as soon as the judges finished their work, but it’s a chance to be recognized in front of your fellow competitors for a job well done.

This year’s 4-way FS medal ceremony Sunday evening brought a special opportunity for USPA Director of Competition Jim Hayhurst to recognize someone that anyone who’s ever competed in 4-way has admired – Mark Kirkby – who is retiring from full-time competition with Arizona Airspeed after this Nationals. Typical of Mark, he won’t slow down much as he steps back into the alternate role on Airspeed, and will continue to coach and organize in Arizona and around the world.

The enthusiastic and extended standing ovation for Mark showed just what an impact he’s had on the competitive 4-way world in the 20 years since he was a founding member of Arizona Airspeed. I’ve been privileged to jump with and be coached by Mark several times at Skydive Arizona, including my 1000th jump in late 2012, where I managed to talk three of the then-current members of Airspeed into joining me for a 4-way! Like so many of the top names in our sport, he remains ever helpful and humble as he passes on his wisdom to the next generation of skydivers and being part of the crowd that honored him was a great way to end my 2014 4-way experience.

About Krisanne Combs:

Krisanne Combs is a weekend warrior who has logged 1450 jumps in her 10 years in the sport. She competed in 4-way FS this year as part of 5th Wheel, a Northern California-based team. Krisanne lives in Oakland, California, where she has a paid job for a large health plan, and an unpaid job as staff for two freakishly large male cats. When she’s not in her local skydiving haunts of Skydance Skydiving or iFly SFBay, she’s probably planning her next skydiving trip.

More of Ori Kuper's photography can be found on his website and Facebook page.



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The 2014 USPA Corn Hole Nationals Competition was an inaugural event. It was decided that the USPA Corn Hole Nationals will become a sanctioned event each year. This year's participants had solid performances in a round robin double elimination competition format. Obviously, it is my hope that the event will make its way to the World meets; however, for now, we will just have to look forward to the 2015 USPA Corn Hole Nationals in Arizona. Special thanks to all the participants in this year's event. Better luck next year Dusty!

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Hah, I'm glad to see that Corn Hole will be coming back next year even with the (generally) better weather in Arizona. Sounds like it was a successful test event this year. :-D

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Well said! Wish there were more spectators and cheering sections for the competitors. Had not seen Nationals since the 80's and 90's. Fascinating to see all the different disciplines and most especially the Awards Ceremonies every evening!

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