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Did You Know...

... that it's a tough deal to knock out Airspeed?

posted Apr 6th, 2015 - The first bells have rung between the top contenders for the 2015 U.S. 4-way title, Arizona Airspeed and SDC Rhythm XP, and both are still standing upright in their corners after 16 rounds. The Paraclete XP Championships 2015, with the indoor (Raeford) and outdoor (DeLand) double-header, are history and the starting positions for the remainder of the 2015 season are set.

It was a promising start for challenger Rhythm at the indoor competition. Airspeed copied their meet average (28.7) from the same event a year ago, while Rhythm added a point to their meet average (from 25.6 in 2014 to 26.6 this year) to finish with their lineup's new 10-round meet record. The 21-point overall difference was a lot; however, Rhythm once again moved closer to the Airspeed powerhouse.

Rhythm kept up the momentum a week later in DeLand and posted their next record average (24.5) in team history. It was only a 6-round outdoor bout this time, and the draw was on the easier side. However, the opponent from Arizona was not able to post a new team record average, which would once again speak for the progression of the challenger.

Arizona Airspeed at the Paraclete XP Outdoor Championship 2015

TURNING POINTS: Tough Deal - Knock Out Airspeed

The reality looks different, and it puts Rhythm in a very difficult position. Airspeed did not post any record numbers during the Paraclete week, and they still threw a very strong blow at the challenger. Their 27.8 average in DeLand was the second highest outdoor meet average in the history of the sport. Only one other team has ever scored higher: Arizona Airspeed at the Mondial Dubai 2012 with 27.9.

Two 2012 world champions are in the current Airspeed lineup (Thomas Hughes and Niklas Hemlin), and they have successfully introduced the two new members (Thiago Gomes and Chris Farina) to the breath-taking Airspeed pace—indoor or outdoor.

The result of the new powerful Airspeed lineup could be frustrating for any challenger trying to catch up. Rhythm is training hard and making great progress—and they are still no closer to the defending champions, at least not yet. Airspeed is keeping up with the Rhythm progression, at least for now.

Paraclete XP Indoor 2015Rd. 1Rd. 2Rd. 3Rd. 4Rd. 5Rd. 6Rd. 7Rd. 8Rd. 9Rd. 10TotalAvg
RankAAA ClassD,2,84,J,B,1714,19,P1,L,2011,21,GQ,C,H,223,12,5M,E,16,9N,10,6K,7,O,15TotalAvg
1Arizona Airspeed 2530222625362539273228728.7
2SDC Rhythm XP 2330222426332134233026626.6
Paraclete XP Outdoor 2015Round 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Round 6TotalAvg
RankAAA ClassN,2,1316,O,E,10D,19,11C,8,M,9F,20,P,6A,7,B,GTotalAvg
1Arizona Airspeed 22252332283716727.8
2SDC Rhythm XP 19232028253214724.5
Recent experiences: Shannon Pilcher with Evolution
The outcome of the Paraclete XP Outdoor Championship could not have been any better for Airspeed. The new lineup wanted to put Rhythm in their place at the beginning of the so-important 2015 season. Only this year's winner will compete as the U.S. delegation at the World Championship of Formation Skydiving 2016. The most relevant competition in the sport will be hosted by Skydive Chicago next year—SDC Rhythm XP's home turf.

Rhythm has to win the USPA Nationals 2015 to take on NMP-PCH Hayabusa and the world's other top teams next year. The USPA Nationals 2015 will be hosted by Skydive Arizona—Airspeed's home turf—which does not make it any easier for Rhythm.

The challenger has seven months left after the Paraclete week to eliminate the 3.3 point difference in outdoor meet average. It seems to be an overwhelming task, and the psychology does not make it any easier. Airspeed left DeLand with a very high confidence level after giving Rhythm more hope a week earlier in Raeford.

Shannon Pilcher with SDC Rhythm XP in DeLand
Rhythm coach Shannon Pilcher is not overly worried yet; he says his team has not unleashed all forces. Rhythm has not arrived on the team's top level so far, and Shannon Pilcher has his own recent experiences from a similar situation. He has coached the Canadian national 4-way team Evolution in the past years.; the Lemay family with Katie Woods was even farther behind Airspeed when their new lineup came together after the World Meet 2012. Two years later, Evolution finished just four points behind at the World Meet 2014. That was serious striking distance, and a similar situation would change the bout between Airspeed and Rhythm completely.

Pilcher said Evolution did not even seem close to such a challenging performance level earlier in the world-meet season. The final thrust came at the actual showdown in Prostejov. He counts on a similar progression with Rhythm this year and the major blow at the USPA Nationals 2015.

There was one problem at the end of the Evolution story last year though: Airspeed was still ahead at the end...

Evolution did what could be done, and Rhythm will do the same this year. The main question cannot be answered yet: Will Airspeed continue with the progression as well, while Rhythm keeps moving up?

It's easier to knock out the opponent in the boxing ring, where the opponents have direct access to each other. Formation-skydiving competition only allows each team to perform on peak performance level without direct access to the opponent. A perfect Rhythm performance with new record averages would still not knock out Airspeed as long as the defending champions keep going on their own end. No knockout is possible at the USPA Nationals 2015, and seven months are left...

P.S.: According to the record books, the winning team at the Paraclete/Shamrock wins the USPA Nationals the same year. It's been like that since 2002 ...

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