The overall tone of the US National Skydiving Championships 2000 changed overnight as Perris Valley continued to host its second week of competition. Smaller groups of competitors and a variety of disciplines made the meet more of a grab bag of styles and feelings. It was lower key, and the Perris staff did try to accommodate each of their specialized needs. The CRW community for once got tended to first. The first official freeflying event launched successfully with only a couple of hitches. However, it was the poorly attended freestyle and skysurfing events that organizers should take a closer look at with the intent that restructuring the whole Nationals schedule could possibly prompt higher participation in each, and all of the above.
The canopy relative work community is truly a family unit. They support each other, gripe when feeling ignored or misunderstood, and generally, are a cheerful, relaxed group of skydivers. So when 4-way rotation took flight Monday morning of that second week, it would almost be called a blessing. The week was starting off with beautiful skies, open communication and a lot less pressure than the RW week.
The defending National champions, the Wild Humans, literally flew circles around their competition. They ranked up 17 points in four of their first five rounds. In essence, they already neatly wrapped up the gold to be delivered to them later in the week, but the finals would be placed on hold. Knowing rain was forecast, and with the minimums already met for 4-way rotation, John DeSantis switched over to 8-way speed to get them into the air. Clean Leap and Perris Infinity were both able to punch out their full 8 rounds on Tuesday. The four other teams in 8-way speed got in 5 rounds apiece.
By Thursday, when the meet was able to get off the ground again, it was a very diversified scene. The CRW dogs shifted to 4-way sequential, while 8 skysurf, 10 freestyle and 17 freefly teams geared up. Each discipline has such distinguishing rituals, names and dress code, it was truly an eclectic hodge-podge of parachute-packing sport enthusiasts.
Taking a closer look at the skysurfing and freestyle events, one will note that there were never more than two to three US teams in any one class. That means any team that entered was guaranteed to medal. This situation shouldn’t be considered a good thing.
Chris Rimple, the 1999 freestylist Nationals champion from Team Nitro, proposes a solution. "Try to imagine a Nationals where freestyle, skysurfing and freeflying were held first. For most of a week, all eyes would be focused on those events. Media attention always starts strong in that environment, and it wouldn’t falter, continuing straight through to (the highly participated) formation skydiving. Skydiving teams would be making training jumps, while freestylists, skysurfers and freeflyers were battling for positions on the podium, exposing more skydivers to these events. Add canopy formation, style and accuracy in the middle, and what do you have? A recipe for success and media attention."
From an organizer’s perspective, starting with the larger and more challenging RW task may appear to be structurally sound; however, from a promotional stance, reversing the Nationals structure could have greater ramifications all around.
A couple of other glitches plagued good intentions. Because of decisions made beforehand, the freestylists weren’t allowed to use the side-exit aircraft they normally utilize but had to use the allotted Skyvan.
In addition, the freestyle, skysurfing and freeflying events all had to be hand-scored. Because the USPA failed to adopt the 2000 IPC changes in time, attending teams were competing under the 1999 rules, which uses a different scoring system and different compulsories than will be employed in next year’s World Meet, the very one competitors are qualifying for. The Pegasus scoring system by Omniskore had already been updated to keep abreast of these changes, but the bureaucracy and paperwork lagged behind. Ultimately, it was the competitors who were affected.
These points aside, the Nationals staff saw that all the teams got put through all their paces as quickly as they could output their scores. By Friday and Saturday, the results were pouring out one after another.
CRW 4-way sequential, which had started last, was actually the first to finish. The organizers didn’t want to switch gears on the CRW gang again, so they had the 6 teams fly all their rounds. Team Talon/Express proved to be tops all the way along and won the gold. Soul Purpose followed in second, and Lodi Express took the bronze.
CRW 4-way rotation shaped up with absolutely no surprises. Wild Humans placed first, and Soul Purpose again proved to be solid performers and won the silver. Guest team, Demolition, came in third in points, but Lodi Express Rotation plugged away and took the bronze out of the 5 competing teams.
It was the freefly segment that was both exciting and suspenseful. It took a three-year effort on the part of dozens of freeflyers, headed up by Omar Alhegelan and Kama Mountz, to even get this discipline onto the Nationals agenda. The freefly entourage had a respectable turnout with 11 Open and 6 Intermediate teams, competing in seven rounds with 45-seconds of working time. Rounds 1 and 5 were the compulsories, and the rest were open forum for their free routines.
However, because the freeflyers were so protective of their original routines, they requested and were granted the privilege of not having their rounds shown on the DZTV. Only the posted scores gave the audience and fellow contenders an idea of how they were doing. The final results and showings didn’t even come in until after-hours in the Bombshelter Friday evening.
So by the numbers, Arizona Freeflight gave the Flyboyz a run for their money. These two alternated ranks on the board right up to the end. However, the Flyboyz posted the highest score of the meet in the 6th round and moved into second. It was Freefly Circus, with their late tallied scores, (due to the fact that Olav Zipser and Mike Swanson were competing in other events), that breezed by the competition and grabbed first place.
In the Intermediate freefly category, team Guano took first, Mirror Image second, and the Bomb Squad was third. Arizona Airspeed came in fourth. Craig Girard, having only won five golds the previous week, says, "It’s a whole different ballgame." But they didn’t bottom out.
On the freestyle front, Team Nitro defended their champion status, with Craig Armine replacing Grant Hetherington as Rimple’s videographer. Z Crazy secured first in the Intermediate class. Both of the Skydive America teams took second in each category.
In the women’s Open, the Flying Gelardis, went on to garner their first Nationals gold, having been the silver medallists in the ’98 Nationals. Axis 21 scored second in points but was a guest team, so it was Team Flew-id that took the silver. In women’s freestyle Intermediate, Free Radicals won. The Unsponsored Freestyle Team came in second and Freestyle Space Center took third.
Perris Firestarter, with Tanya Garcia-O’Brien and her cameraman/husband Craig O’Brien, blew by the men in skysurfing, but competing officially in women’s Open, took first there, followed by Elsinore Boardwalk. CrossKeys Inferno won the gold in men’s Open and Skysurf Chicago the silver.
Guest team, Evolution, posted the highest marks in men’s Intermediate skysurfing, but A2B were proud to officially grace the top podium. Proper Dose-Perris was the silver medallist and Perris Black Diamond rounded out the picture in third.
Wrapping out, it was just over the two-week mark when the final competition load took off with 8-way speed on late Saturday morning. The gaps in the scoreboard were filled in, and Clean Leap, which built the fastest round in 39.12 seconds, took first overall. Perris Infinity performed well, but not their best, and came in second. Drought Busters scored the bronze.
Nationals finished all rounds with one weather day to spare. There were no injuries, no official protests and the overall vibe was positive. Many greeted old friends and acquaintances from afar among the milieu. A few kinks in the competition still need to be worked out, but it certainly wasn’t due to lack of effort or heart. As Al Gramando, Eloy’s general manager, said in regard to the 2001 Nationals to be held at his drop zone, "Melanie (Conatser) is making my life difficult." The sign hanging over Perris Valley Skydiving’s entrance proclaims, "Home of the 2000 US Nationals Skydiving Championships." They are proud of their efforts and have good reason to be.