BC Diary: Day 1

I head down to breakfast around 6:00 am.

Getting around the Westin is silly. For the officials’ breakfast, we have to take the elevator down to the 9th floor and then take an escalator up to a 10th floor ballroom. For me, the officials’ breakfast is always pretty quiet and sparsely populated–the armorers, a couple of the trainers, and the BC computer operators are usually the only people there as early as I am (though a very few people, such as the folks from the national office who have to get the venue opened up, are even earlier). Then when we’re ready to go to the venue, we go back down the escalator to the 9th floor, take the elevator to the 5th floor, and then down another escalator to get to the street level exit.

Oh, good–the shuttle is already there waiting for us. It’s a short ride to the Georgia World Congress Center, and the shuttle drops us off at the lobby entrance. It’s not that I’ve never been to the GWCC before; I know how big the complex is–it’s just that I always forget how big it feels when you’re actually there–and it’s a long trek from the entrance down through the bowels of Building B to Hall B5 at the far end.

I always like those few minutes early in the mornings before many people have arrived. The venue is quiet, the aisles are clear, the chairs are still in neat straight rows. The scoring machines are not yet whining, coaches and fencers haven’t yet begun to yell, and it still seems barely possible that the schedule might work, despite the huge numbers of competitors we have.

As my table staff arrive on the next shuttle run, they stake out their spots on the BC table, hang their event signs, and pick colors for their paper. With so many events on only three computers (we used to have six for SN–I suppose it saves on both staff and equipment expense to have only the three now), we need the colors to help keep all the paper from all the different events properly sorted.

I hand out the strip allocations I worked out yesterday. As much as possible, I try to put pools on strips that will also be used for the DE rounds for the same events. For example, the Youth 14 Women’s Epee has 17 pools, so I put them on four pods of four, plus one extra strip. For their DEs, they’ll use the 16 strips in those same pods of four, and the extra strip will be freed up for something else. The Under 16 Men’s Foil, though, with 21 pools, will need more strips for their DEs, which will go out on 24 strips so that they’ll finish a little more quickly than they would on 16. DEs on 24 are tricky to set up, though. There’s no easy way to divide a DE table into six parts; you can only break it into halves, quarters, eighths, or sixteenths. The 16 MF will be divided into eighths, so that each of the eight groups of three strips will run half a page of the four-page table. With the strange strip arrangement we have, that means almost every group will be spread over pod barriers, which is inconvenient for both referees and fencers.

As the room fills up, we discover that the sound system, which was fine when tested yesterday, sounds more and more garbled as the room fills up; there seem to be dead spots, as well, including the referee corral behind the bout committee stage–we need to remember to check there for referees who don’t come when called.

Damn. There’s a withdrawal or no-show on the strip in a pool of six in one event, leaving us with a pool of 5 among the 6s and 7s. I decide to stop the fencing and reset the pools. It’s fairer to the fencers but it means the schedule is already slipping by half an hour. (Sometimes a medical withdrawal during a pool will leave us with a pool of 5, but there’s nothing to be done at that point–we’re stuck with it.)

Some of the fencers who checked in upstairs with the new scanning system appear as no-shows, Joe goes up to check into it–turns out that the people doing the scanning weren’t waiting to make sure one scan was good before doing the next one. He tweaked the code a little, too, in addition to clarifying the instructions to the check-in staff. I guess this means the new system is officially in beta. It’s almost always the human factors, though, that we have to focus on the most to make things work right.

The water situation is really frustrating. There are five-gallon water stations (four or five, I think) around the hall, refilled on a schedule about every three hours. For this limited service, Christy tells us, the USFA is paying somewhere around $20,000 for the ten days of the tournament. When you consider that the dozen bout committee staff alone will need a minimum of six gallons a day just sitting and standing, it’s ridiculously inadequate. Near the restrooms closest to the BC stage, there’s a drinking fountain with a nice high arc good for refilling bottles; I’m not sure how many other drinking fountains there are in the hall. I do a lot of pointing toward that fountain.

We also do a lot of newbie education, explaining to first- time fencers and parents how the tournament will work, where and when strip assignments will be posted and how to understand them. I wish some clubs would do a better job preparing their SN qualifiers for what to expect here. We don’t mind explaining things at all, but those families shouldn’t feel so lost when they arrive.

We need to do the 16WS DEs on 8 strips instead of 12 because of the referee shortage. (It’s not only the long delays in officials’ pay causing the shortage; there are also a number of referees who will no longer work SN because of the brutal working conditions.) It turns out that this actually helps–it frees up 4 strips I can give to other events. The schedule is still slipping, though–the foil and épée events are slower than projected, so I don’t yet have strips for the events starting mid-day or later.

The 19MS has 18 pools, but it will be flighted, too, because of referees. It always seems unfair that saber is so often flighted, but it’s so much faster than the other weapons that it makes sense. At least all the saber fencers are used to it by now.

Flighting is really hard on the referees who are here working, though. A typical saber referee today might work a pool and a DE quadrant in the 16WS, then a pool and DEs in the 10WS, then grab lunch quickly–15 or 20 minutes today will be a leisurely meal–before reffing two flights of 19MS pools, then their DEs. That referees can see anything at all after 12 or 14 hours of this is miraculous.

How can there be 18 pools of 10MF? That’s a DE table of 128–four pages of little kid fencers. Where do they all come from that young?

The schedule is still slipping–I’d guess we’ll be at least an hour later than the projected 9:15 finish. The 14 pools of 19WF starting so late in the afternoon certainly will not make up any of that time.

We get the meal vouchers for all the officials who will be staying after 7:00 pm, and in short order discover what can be had for the $10 value: a hot dog or sandwich and a soft drink. In theory one could also get a salad, but none of the food vendors seem to have any left. At the Papa John’s cart, you can get a personal cheese or pepperoni pizza and a soft drink, but you have to add $.50 to the voucher.

Around 9:45 we start to hear all the fireworks going off. Sounds like a pretty good show, and we can definitely tell when the big finale starts–the pops and bangs come fast and furious.

Last touch of the last event (19WF, of course) is at 10:30. All we have to do now is get the awards done, and we can catch the shuttle back to the hotel.

Uh-oh. Some referees who’ve been waiting for the shuttle say it hasn’t come for a long time, so I call the number I’ve been given for the shuttle service. It seems they were told to stop at 10:30, and the dispatcher wasn’t able to reach anyone who could authorize them to continue, so they’ve gone home. Sigh. Those of us who’ve stayed latest will be walking back to the hotel among the crowds still dispersing from the fireworks show. Not a good finish to the first day.

Stats:

  • Number of individual competitors: 702
  • Number of teams: 15
  • End time: 10:30 pm
  • Hours worked today: 15.5
  • BC hours cumulative total: 18.5 hours

Alarm’s set for 5:30 am.

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