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Did You Know...

... that USPA's Advanced Class competition lacks a defending champion?

Blue Skies Mag: TURNING POINTS in March 2016
posted Mar 17th, 2016 - OK, I have looked at this for a very longtime, and I have kept my mouth shut while suffering with the poor teams who win the advanced class competition at USPA Nationals. It is about time to take on the topic, as I am usually not shy about speaking my mind.

No worries, it's not a biggie and I don't think that I will step on anybody's toes. In fact, I am hoping that my thoughts will be considered productive. First of all, I fully support USPA's advanced class and the extremely difficult effort to separate the pros from the amateurs in the sport. I have to admit that I have given up on that, as it seems impossible to make this distinction. On the other hand, I obviously like to categorize as much and as logically as possible (NSL classes AAA - AA - A - RRR - RR - R).

Advanced Class medalists at USPA 2015


I am in the same boat with USPA when it comes to the impossible definition of a "professional" in formation skydiving competition and the even more impossible policing of it. The leaderboard has to take care of it naturally, which it usually does in the open class, by placing the "professional" teams over the "amateur" teams.

USPA's intermediate (which is identical to the NSL's AA class) and advanced class (which matches the AAA) are great categories and offer recreational teams the opportunities to compete for their own sets of medals. It is also logical that the winner of the intermediate class should move up to the next category (advanced) since the dive pool is different and more challenging.

Winning teams will naturally be inclined and motivated to go after the missing six blocks and the longer sequences, including memory and slot switchers. I would even go a step further and send all three medal-winning teams up to the advanced class. Silver and bronze medalists are usually close to the winner and have the same or similar skills and experience levels.

USPA Advanced Class gold in 2000: Teiwaz
This is different in the advanced class. The winner of this USPA category is not facing a new and more challenging dive pool or different sequences. They are also not turning into full-time skydivers - or even full-time competitors - after winning USPA's advanced class gold medals. The reality is different.

I was player coaching a team (Teiwaz) that won advanced class gold medals in 2000. The original Teiwaz members had invested a lot of time and money to get to the top level of the advanced class. They were financially and mentally exhausted after that effort, and did not even think of trying to move up into open-class competition. I am not sure if the team would have been able to maintain the winning performance level without much training at all.

Sad reality was that the motivation to compete in the open class was simply not there. Without eligibility to compete in the advanced class, where the fully recreational team actually belonged, the team members lost interest in the national championships and finally also in any other 4-way competition. Eventually, two of the 2000 winners quit skydiving altogether...

USPA Nationals 2014Rd. 1Rd. 2Rd. 3Rd. 4Rd. 5Rd. 6Rd. 7Rd. 8Rd. 9Rd. 10TotalAvg
1Dallas 350 (US)1817172014161112131315115.1
2Misfits (US)181716201314101491314414.4
8Bodyflight Bonobos (INT)1815141912161312121114214.2
3Dallas Khaos Black (US)171415191114913111113413.4
9Le Verve XP (INT)161616151311914111113213.2
10Spaceland Lite (US)1314141813161010101112912.9
Not back yet: Advanced Class winners in 2013: Zebone
Well, that was almost 16 years ago, and it would be easy to say that this is not the same any longer. It is the same. Teams still spend a lot of time and money to win the advanced-class gold medals (maybe except the Air Force lineups...) and still don't turn into pros after winning. They are still exhausted after a very intensive period of input and investment and still have a hard time maintaining their performance level without any training or with a significantly reduced plan - if they continue...

The solution to the problem of leaving exhausted teams and competitors behind is a very simple one: USPA could remove the obligation to move up from the advanced class into the open class from the rules.

Imagine the excitement of the reigning champions trying to defend the title next year. Imagine the excitement of the teams closely behind the winner who can challenge the defending champion next year. I have no doubt the winning team would find a few dollars for a little bit of training and the challengers would train even harder...

USPA Nationals 2015Rd. 1Rd. 2Rd. 3Rd. 4Rd. 5Rd. 6Rd. 7Rd. 8Rd. 9Rd. 10TotalAvg
8Dallas 3501616231517171516141116016.0
9Verve XP1513271417161616131215915.9
1Air Force Smolder1614261517151514111115415.4
10Spaceland Lite1614231317131313141014614.6
2Perris Quattro151018131413111010912312.3
3Perris Dauntless Five111318101012121210811611.6
3Event Horizon131117121210111191011611.6
No looking back: SDC Rhythm XP after winning in 2008
I would guess the chances for the winner to defend the title successfully would be 50 - 50 at best. And there would be nothing wrong with it if that did happen. Each sport has a defending champion, and it is one of the most exciting parts of sports when the challengers go after the reigning champions. This piece of excitement is completely missing in the advanced class.

Teams who plan to train much more or to go full-time and want to move up into the open class will do that, no matter what. We have good examples of that; nobody could hold JaNette and Steve Lefkowitz down in the advanced class after winning with Rhythm in 2008. The same counts for the Carolina Turbo XP members after winning in 2010. You would not see Mass Defiance come back to compete in the advanced class if it were open for everybody. Even seasoned recreational competitors like Rodney Cruce or James Klinge will not compete in the advanced class unless they are player-coaches with a lower experienced lineup.

On the other hand, there are quite a few 4-way competitors in the open class who could make the race for medals in the advanced class even more exciting, as they are posting scores on the same level anyway - only on a different leaderboard...

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