I was a bit surprised to receive an invitation at all, to be honest. But, after digging into this a little, I was stunned that the US Team Committee had chosen NOT to select me for the 18m team. It was nice to get the 15m invite, but I have made it VERY clear that I have only been flying 15-meter competition for fun and practice. Again, in this case, the only way I was going to do the 15m world championships is if it was useful practice for my goal: the 18m world championships. And in fact it is scheduled in precisely such a way:
35th FAI WGC, Poland, 8 Jul-21 Jul 2018 (Club, Standard, 15m)
A full week in between…
35th FAI WGC, Czech Republic, 28 Jul-11 Aug 2018 (18m, 20m, Open)
As a pilot who had earned top positions in BOTH 15m and 18m class via the US Team International Rankings (US Rule-Based), I won the choice to choose: 1) which worlds to attend 2) to do BOTH world championships. Instead, the US Team Committee could not help but reorganize the very US International Team rankings which govern the process.
I have only flown in three or four 15m contests, and much prefer my 18m configuration. That said, apparently, I fly well in 15m. Regardless, by far, my first choice was the 18m class. But it was also the first choice of the vast majority of US International Team pilots because it is the most competitive and prestigious. Despite the enormous ranking advantage of myself and the top four pilots in the US International Rankings for 18m class, the US Team Committee chose to ignore it and pick a good and boy and political insider. Cronyism at its finest.
My preference for 18m is prominent and well known by all involved. While it was “nice” to see that the new US Team Committee ”bikini round” (personal opinion voting for buddies) had not affected the outcome of the 15m class Team Committee selection (I was ranked first), it completely altered the 18m class US Team pilot selection. Despite the clear gap in the International pilot rankings (top 4 within a few tenths of a point, and 5th two FULL POINTS further back), the committee somehow decided to skip over the pilots who earned their ranking and therefore disregard the earned US international pilot rankings. I cannot reinforce this point enough.
That was disappointing. Not only for me but the others it was sure to affect via this new precedent. And, unfortunately, the cronyism becomes much worse once I had the chance to probe the “justification” for that decision. I received a carefully designed phone call “congratulating me,” shortly after the US Team Committee had sent their initial email. I used that perfect opportunity to ask several carefully designed base-line questions to test the decision logic in 18m before expressing my total disagreement. Just moments into that phone call, it became immediately evident to me that the justifications for my rejection in 18m was both highly inconsistent and based on pure political bias (personal opinions, supposition, superstition, and theory). The only factor not used by the US Team Committee in making their “decision” (reminds me of the Lebron James event) was the current US International Team rankings and relevant pilot performance (especially the recent WGC, etc.)!
We were all told unequivocally in the debate about this new system (off the record of course, but many will confirm) that the International Team Rankings would only be ignored or overruled in rare, extreme circumstances. Apparently, that promise was not the case. More on this inconsistency, bias, and stupidity in due time once official statements are on the record (confirming the selected US Team members for the 18m class).
The new US Team selection voting (aka “bikini rounds” and aka pilot and committee and “Zhar” voting) consists of several personal opinion voting rounds (essentially popularity contests and lobbying for one’s buddies, let’s be honest shall we?). The pilot opinion voting is limited to International Team pilots with an 85% or > “US International Ranking.” What this new system provides the US Team Committee is a mechanism to do whatever they wish regarding US Team pilot selection. Total power with no real limitations whatsoever. These US International Rankings (hosted on someone’s private server) don’t even reside on the SSA’s (the US National Aeroclub) own website. Now, with this new system, those International Rankings are virtually meaningless. The new, subjective selection process can easily ignore the hard-fought US International Rankings at multiple political levels.
Note: How and why the SSA is still the USA’s national aeroclub is beyond me. Their primary function seems to be disparaging the FAI rules here domestically and especially in WGC social media reporting.
Anyway, back to the new US team opinion voting. Keep in mind that this new US Team “opinion” voting is voting amongst the pilots (and US Team Committee members) COMPETING for the US Team. The top 2 or 3 pilots in the rankings become bikini girls. The rest of the > 85% “voters” assume the role of the “bikini judges.” But they have their favorites. They can make up whatever justification they want to for choosing pilots outside of the order and overriding the rankings (something we were all assured would be protected against by the US Team Committee). It is now obvious that if their buddies are not in the lead position in the Team rankings, the process allows that barrier to “go away” very quickly. This “vote for their buddies” behavior was discussed in detail, last season, and we were all assured such action was not going to be allowed to happen. The team committee promised that they would police it. So much for that promise. But that’s not even close to the end of the new US Team selection shittiness.
After the > 85% pilot round of popularity voting, we move on to the “good part.” The “US team committee” now makes its own “popularity” voting determination, amongst themselves, “supposedly” based on the 85% or > bikini round votes. Of course, every member of the current US team committee has the real potential to make one or more of the 2018 US Teams. And I am betting that they will all make the 2018 US team for one or more classes. Well isn’t that special? It reminds me of formed “alliances” from that reality TV show “Survivor.” After those musings, we also have John Good’s “opinion.” John was appointed (installed) as the “US Team Zhar” (second to his full-time role as FAI rules critic). Pilots or SSA members did not elect John. John can override their votes and the pilot’s votes. He can essentially do whatever he wants. Then Ken Sorenson’s “opinion” can override Johns. All of these people have the ability, if not to override, to strongly influence decisions (the good old boy way) despite the “promise” of US Team members “recusing themselves” from voting for themselves or showing personal bias. The focus is supposed to be honoring the International Rankings (earned by each pilot) and to field the best possible US Soaring Teams.
Of course, all of these US Team committees are good “buddies” (the good old boys) and go “way back” together. Wink, Wink! This committee has shared no public details or justifications (publically or privately with me) regarding their picks. They likely had/have no intentions of doing so with you, or anyone else. We can only guess at the depths of their “genius’ here in selecting 18m pilots well outside of the current US International Pilot Ranking order while simultaneously not taking any actual international or FAI competition results into account.
So, again, this is very disappointing but, sadly, is not a surprise. Some sliminess was expected, to be honest. We have seen it coming for over a year now. I’m surprised I received the 15m invite, to be honest, but I am sure that invitation happened because they knew that I wanted the 18m invitation. I earned the choice for BOTH TEAMs in my opinion. I cite the International rankings below, assuming Dave Leonard dropped out. I have worked very hard personally over the past five years to learn this sport and to prepare myself for FAI competition in the 18-meter class specifically. I have departed, as much as possible, from US Rules competitions (TATs, MATs) which I firmly believe serve only to make our top pilots (and up and coming pilots) WEAKER (especially in FAI competition). All of that effort (and International Ranking success) became meaningless when the US Team Committee chose to wave their new magic wand and IGNORE THE US INTERNATIONAL RANKINGS for 18m.
To be honest, FAI Sailplane Grand Prix USA 🇺🇸 (and the upcoming European based FAI SGP World Final) turn me on far more than another reasonably disorganized, 3-week long, FAI World Championships, at this point. Note that they don’t even have a team captains identified. Note that they have waited almost to November to select the pilots when all of this could have happened in May for 15m and August for 18m. With FAI SGP, for starters, there are no SSA politics involved with the FAI SGP WGC selection. If you perform (top 2 or 3), you can qualify. If you don’t earn the position (no participation medals), you do not qualify, period. Maybe my hardened generation X upbringing is just too hard-nosed for 2017? Fortunately for me, FAI SGPs clean, objective racing formate efficiently determines who the fastest pilot is (unlike US rules and the US Team committee). That simple, fair aspect of FAI SGP process is so refreshing. It is free of SSA good old boy influence. Ahhhhh! It can be brutal, this is true, but it is fair, and the pilots truly respect the winners at the end of the competition. In other words, with FAI SGP qualifiers (such as FIA SGP USA) competitors eat what they kill, period. No BS. No “creative” good old boy “strategery.”
BTW, in North America, the best pilot is clearly and WITHOUT QUESTION Jerzy Szemplinksi…and I have been enjoying the journey of trying to catch him, immensely!
It appears that a “significantly lower rated pilot” was picked by the US Team Committee “brain trust’ in what we believe is a clear case of the good old boys taking care of its own. Two percent is > 60+% behind the top 4 pilots in 18m class when the relative range of the relevant US Team rankings are considered (98-95%). Based on the US International Team ranking data (below), there is no question that I have earned the right to compete both the 18m and 15m (2018 Poland and the 2018 Czech Republic). That assumes Dave Leonard dropped out (2nd).
Another tidbit, the comment was made by my US Team hander, during my “congratulations” call (aka damage control assessment) call that Gary Ittner WOULD HAVE MADE BOTH THE 15m AND 18m TEAM if he did not “retire.” WTH? That was a very bold statement indeed considering the context of the call. I have ranked ahead of Gary in both classes. Total idiocy.
The US Team selection process is still only based only on “US Rules” based National Championships. Ironically, in my long-held opinion, this is also the EXACT REASON that we keep selecting pilots who are poorly prepared (often with very poor US rule-based mindsets) to deal with FAI World Level competition. US Rules contests include mainly TATs and also tasks such as MATs (two of seven total in Uvalde 18m nationals).
Tiffany and I have accomplished many successes in 18m competition during the past two years:
1) SGP Australia (3rd)
2) SGP USA (2nd)
3) the FAI 18 meter World Championships in Australia (winning a day by the HIGHEST POINT MARGIN of the entire WGC, in any class).
The day win was my second WGC competition day ever. With all that, and ranking an extremely close third in the US International Team Rankings (only .6 points behind 1st), we find our not being selected for 18m insulting and offensive.
We continue to lose our respect (now virtually zero) for the manner by which major decisions are made (and strategies executed) within the SSA in regards to international competition (and US rules, and safety, and their responsibility to manage growth). The SSA now has a US Team selection system which driven, without question, by bias and personal friendships (and only loosely obfuscated). Congratulations! Congratulations to the Good Old Boys and Girl on your “balls” in doing what you have done.
Well, good luck to the pilots who are selected (by the good old boys). The bikini round worked. I’m not sure who that is at this point. I also really do not care. The upcoming WGC’s are going to be very, very difficult competition for our US Team pilots to be successful for the same reasons they have been difficult for our pilots over the past ten years. Our pilots, other than the recent typical performance at the Australian world championships, have gained zero additional FAI experience (other than the lectures in Cordele). In 18m, our “lead” pilot was selected based on the tiniest percentage (.6). That ranking is solely based on non-FAI competitions! Of course, FAI competition performances (such as FAI SGP) were ignored (gee, let me think about why that may be…). Needless to say, the FAI WGC’s are often 80% real (FAI) racing tasks (Benalla, Australia 2017), FAI SGP’s are 💯% racing tasks and the 15m US Nationals this year (which we happened to win, what a surprise) was (amazingly) 💯% also US pseudo racing (TAT) tasks.
Current US Team Rankings for reference: http://soaringweb.org/US_Team/HomePage.html
US Team selection process personified: https://youtu.be/iXe2nBqfzaM