US Nationals Junior Girls Travesty Wrapup

Well, THAT was a pretty viral 24 hours.

I want to address, correct, and elaborate on a few things that have come to light since my piece on how the Junior Girls were treated as US Nationals was posted yesterday.

First, I've talked to Pete Webber, who is on the USAC Cross Commission, and worked on the course at Nationals.  Pete also coaches a large number of juniors, both male and female, in Boulder.  From my conversation with him, it was clear to me that Pete absolutely wants the best experience for juniors of both genders in cyclocross, and has put more work into that almost anyone around here, including myself.

Pete wanted to outline a few points in USAC's defense for the events on Monday --

1) Because the course had reached ~15 minute lap times for junior girls, it makes getting race distances correct very difficult.  Ordinarily there are "shortcut" options in the course that can be used to affect lap length, but these were off the table Monday because they threatened Heritage trees.  Pete wanted specifically to emphasize that in spite of this difficulty, the junior race winners - Turner Ramsay (26:12), Emma White (35:43), Gage Hecht (39:24) and Scott Funston (31:00) all did the "right" number of laps for their race time.

They also did a ton of work earlier in the week to get the younger junior races correct with adding/removing shortcut sections, and they nailed all the race lengths at Boulder last year as well.

This is significant contrast to Madison, where this level of care was not taken, and the junior races were a mess due to lap lengths.

It might seem like a bit of a tangent, but the point is:  we're trying, we're improving, and we're getting results.  He's right.

2) Emma White got 30 UCI points for winning the girls 17-18 national championship, which is a race that doesn't even exist in Europe yet is brand new in the US and rare in Europe.  She got these points because of efforts to push the UCI toward gender equality in cyclocross, which have been mainly driven by the American and English racing scenes.

3) While the race winners were doing the correct distances, the weakest juniors were going to be finishing up to 20 minutes behind them because of the slow laps.  Earlier in the week, this might have been okay, but on the compressed schedule it was a risk that the officials strongly felt the need to guard against.  Therefore leaving everyone in the race to finish was not possible.

Pete and I agreed, however, that there's a massive difference between pulling someone after 17 minutes of racing versus pulling them after 40 minutes, or scoring them as they reach the finish straight because the next field is lined up or just started.

Bottom line:  we talked on the phone for an hour.  We both made points that the other had to admit were pretty valid.    If you'd been in the conversation, you would have been satisfied.

Second, Dot Abbott, the Chief Ref posted an explanation of her reasoning for the fields being aligned how they were.

I do not agree with several aspects of it, but want to retract my pejorative of "lazy" in describing the decision making process.  After seeing what variables she was trying to optimize for, I think she worked really hard to create an extremely technical solution to the problem, that would give the podium racers in all four fields the best possible race.

It was still not a good solution, it was still a sexist solution (that doesn't mean she's a sexist, but her decision can be, okay?), but it wasn't by any means lazy.  

However, there are some factual inaccuracies in Dot's reasoning and justification that I just cannot let slide.  I'm a data dork.  Throwing numbers around that are close but not equal to the facts is totally not cool with me.  The rest of this blog post is going to be kind of technical and nitpicky.

Let's look at the reasoning:
The primary deciding factor for putting their (15-16) race on course with the Men 17-18 and Women 17-18 is that the integrity of the podium would be maintained for all categories. The riders in contention for the medals would have fewer slower riders on course that they had to pass, and fewer riders that might get in their way and possibly cost them a podium spot. Any other combination would have resulted in an unfair race for the podium places in this or other categories concerned.
This is the thesis behind the decision.  "Any other combination would have resulted in an unfair race for the podium places in this or other categories concerned."  I don't think this is true at all.   I will agree that Option (A) of "all women together, then all men" from the original post would have forced both Junior Men's field leaders to deal with a lot of lapped traffic -- however I also think I can show that Option (B) ("all 15/16 then all 17/18") would have been better even by THIS criteria.

Note that this criteria has absolutely no ethic toward fairness, participation, or the message it sends about which fields are important, factors that I think absolutely should be consider at the most high-visibility event of the season, for age groups that are arguably the most impressionable in the sport.

Given that we watched the leading Junior Men laps girls on the livestream for the entire race, you have to admit that (1) putting the younger girls in with older boy caused more lapping for the boys, not less and (2) lapping really isn't as big a deal as you might think.  The Junior Men's leaders lapped 30-35 girls without incident during the race.
Given the mandated course modifications, the shorter Junior course was no longer available for Monday's racing. If the Junior Women 15-16 had their own individual time on the course, the outcome of the race and number of laps for the winner would have been the same. Because they were turning 13-14 minute lap times, for the 30 minute race allocation in the USAC regulations this category would have done a total of 2 laps (winning time 26:12) rather than 3 laps (approximately 39:30).
This is correct.  Junior 15-16 women would have raced 2 laps, so seven of them (39%) actually got their entire race in.  However, the race winner thought she was pulled from the race, and the "sprint" for third had one girl sprinting and one girl wondering why the other one was sprinting.  So it's safe to say that those girls had NO IDEA how long their race was.  Even if the only criteria is "give the podium contenders a fair race," this fails those criteria, since part of a fair race is knowing how long your race is.

Expecting 3 juniors fields to successfully share the course at the same time, racing 3 different distances (boys 4 laps, older girls 3 laps, younger girls 2 laps), is a recipe for disaster.  Even if the numbers work on paper, it doesn't in practice.

The 6th place girl from the 17-18 race emailed me, to say that she got pulled after two laps, despite being within sight of 5th and thus in the running for the extended podium.  The race was 20 minutes from ending at that point, there was no time-based reason to take her off the course, and she was less than five minutes behind Emma White -- further proof that coordinating 3 different races of 3 different durations on course at once is impossible.

For those riders turning a slower first lap, in accordance with the way the events were run throughout the week, anyone turning a first lap time that would result in a projected total race time of over 36 minutes would have been pulled from the race after the first lap. [EDIT] This accounts for riders placed 15th and farther in Women 15-16. Possibly seven women 15-16 would have been able to do one more additional lap. Significant? Yes. Worth impeding the races for the podium spots by using a different schedule? Not at a Nationals if it could be avoided.
So basically, they were willing to pull people going into the final lap if they were going to finish more than 6 minutes outside the race window (30 minutes) or 10 minutes out of first place (26 minutes).  Is this harsh?  Yes.  Is this super harsh?  Yes.  Could they have pulled riders at the pit, or the finish straight, so they could still ride most of the lap?  Yes.

But it's also a complete red herring.  The Junior 15-16 Women were on course with boys, and the winner of that race didn't even finish until the 39 minute mark.  Using a time-based justification for pulling them makes no sense, as there was no way letting those girls do a second lap could have affected the race length.   None of them were 80% behind their category leader (Turner Ramsay) after one lap.   They were pulled so they didn't get in the boys way, period.
Putting this race after any other category possible (Men 15-16) would have meant that the Women 15-16 leader had to pass over 20 riders on her first lap.
This is absolutely not true.

First, let's look at what actually happened.

The Junior Women 15-16 started roughly 20 seconds behind the Junior Women 17-18 and 1:20 behind the Junior Men 17-18.  Turner Ramsay's first lap was 14:16.

There were 12 of the older Junior Women who had lap one times over 14:36, so she passed 12 women on the first lap.

There were two boys who had lap times over 15:36, so she had to pass them also.  Turner Ramsay passed 14 people, total, on her first lap.

Now, in the hypothetical situation of her starting one minute behind the 15-16 men, 11 of them had a lap one time that was slower than 15:12.  Turner would have had to pass only eleven boys on lap one.

I have no idea where the "over 20 riders" claim comes from.  Even using the extremely narrow criteria of "minimize how much passing the leaders do," this wasn't the best solution for the 15-16 women.
Grouping Men Juniors (15-16 and 17-18) on the course together with a time gap start would have had a similar outcome, with the Men 15-16 leader going through about 19 Men 17-18 riders on his first lap. This is not what the National Championships are about.
I agree with "this is not what the national Championships are about," in theory.  Ideally, every field would get its own start, and no field would have to race through the stragglers from another field.  

In practice, though, this just doesn't always happen.  Note that the D1/D2 Collegiate women had 41 D1 women start and and second wave of 35 D2 women shortly after.  The D2 leaders hit the course with 41 riders in their way, which is, guess what, the exact size of the Junior Men's 17-18 field.

So boys starting behind 41 boys aren't what Nationals is about, but girls starting behind 41 girls is exactly what National Championships is about, apparently.

All that being said...

The Chief Referee's plan, while it ultimately didn't work, was reasonable if the only thing that matters is giving the podium contenders a fair shot.  I think I've shown here that option (B), 15-16 women behind 15-16 boys, would have worked just as well and actually better (eleven lap-one passes instead of fourteen).

I fully stand by my analysis, posted Monday, of the message sent to young women by the decisions that were made.  In a world where only the podium finishers matter, the schedule that was chosen is somewhat reasonable, but that world doesn't exist.  

By every other metric (participation, development, fairness, sexism, happiness) the schedule completely fails, and most frustratingly, an alternate schedule existed, that would have been at least as good for the podium racers, while being less complicated for everyone and a far more pleasant experience for the younger women.

I find the Chief Ref's unwillingness to acknowledge the hardship created for basically every teenage girl at the event who wasn't Emma White very disappointing.  Being an official and making tough choices under pressure is really, really hard.  Making mistakes is human.  I think a lot of people would have been satisfied with the word "sorry." 

Unfortunately, being unwilling to acknowledge your mistakes publicly is pretty human, too.

See you in Asheville.


Michele said…
I'm very interested in the collegiate situation. Were the D1 and D2 men run together? There's no reason to expect that one field will be slower than the other, so why were D2 women started second? Why weren't the two fields mixed together with different-colored numbers or something similar?
Julianne said…
Agreed, a simple apology from USAC is in order. Maybe it's in the email sent to participants?

Also, good work again in clarifying the data presented by Dott as the reasoning seemed well intentioned for a small number of participants but more like a stretch. Either way 3 fields on course at once is just not a good plan. So frustrating when there's so much emphasis on the need to grow the female side of the sport.

Michele- according the schedule posted it looks like they ran the D1 and D2 men in separate races.
AlanAtwood said…
Michelle -- there's enough collegiate women out there now that they can (and should) get their own race. Next step would be to get their own time slot; but realistically you'd have to separate amateurs nats and pro nats before that's going to happen, or introduce a 6th day of racing; that's a lot to ask.

Colin, you are to be commended for bringing this up. As I spent my winter down south putting together my upcoming season, I am finding it harder and harder to support national level events because of stuff like this -- I feel I just want to contribute to the local scene where people care about doing it right. And as I mentioned to Don Seib on FB the other day, I'm not so sure I'm going to Ashville next year; I can totally see myself helping out with ScrubZone Nats 2.0 :-)
Don Seib said…
Once again an excellent summary.

I've talked with Peter a few times in the past (he wouldn't know me from a hole in the wall). I don't know the answer to this question, but he states they did the proper length race. The schedule showed (and still shows) a 35 minute race for 15-16 and 17-18 girls. Unless it was clear on the line (I was in the pits, not at the start), then it makes sense that women coming through in 27 minutes would expect another lap. Towing the line a few hundred times myself, starting instructions from officials can be almost impossible to hear. But if in reality it was announced to them they could do only 2 laps, someone would have heard it...

Clearly option A or B was preferred and I strongly agree that not admitting an error, or least admitting the possibility that better options existed is not acceptable. As you demonstrated in your response and I will too if proven incorrect, ego should not hinder accuracy.

Lastly, and I'm still stuck on this one. They were pulled, they did not "finish". I won't yield on this play of words. There was 25 minutes of time left, many of the 15-16 women and most of the 17-18 women could have finished with plenty of time to spare before the U23 mens start. The racing broke up immediately with-in one half lap, so there were NO packs of riders and lapped traffic did NOT impact 17-18 boys. Any USA Cycling official should know/have experience that in full-on mud conditions the race will play out this way.

I will note again as I watched at least a dozen races from Wed-Sat, USA Cycling officials let racers go well beyond their racing time to complete, sometimes right up to the start of the next race. Why this courtesy was not extended to the Junior women is a travesty.
Michele said…
They could cut the collegiate relay to make room for the D2 women, or run D1 and D2 women together rather than separately.
Nicole said…
I'm with Don. USAC and I may have to agree to disagree on what "protecting the integrity of the podium" looks like. I wonder if Ashley Z. feels like the integrity of her race was protected.

USAC seems to be stuck on confirming that the class combo was the right one. I'm stuck on what was terrible officiating/communication for the W15-16 group.
Ed Parsons said…
This was just posted:

The biggest issue I have with the stated apology/explanation is the "integrity of the podium" argument. I think we need to discuss priorities here. I'm all for pulling anyone who's out of contention in an elite championship, but maybe the junior races should favor the breadth and volume rather than cruel authenticity of the elite competition experience. Passing isn't ideal, but the scorekeepers have the technology and the racers have the skill to deal with it.

I know USAC is in the unenviable position of trying to satisfy the large majority of members and overwhelming majority of money in the sport, represented by old white guys like me. But let me be clear: there may be no better representative of the future of the sport than junior women cyclocrossers, and I'd gladly give up masters course time for them.

I would like to note that I don't believe for a minute that Dot Abbott wasn't doing her best, and that she has to make a decision *before* the lap data comes in. Her impression of the relative speed and importance of fields is based on prior experience, blah blah blah, institutional sexism. The original plan to feature the juniors on the last day or racing was a step in the right direction which unfortunately backfired.

As for the data, Colin has shown that the historical impressions don't always pan out, and better assumptions might be formed by doing something like, I don't know, maybe hiring Colin. In any case, we need a national organization to deal with the IOC/UCI BS, but innovation is going to come from local associations, so let's keep doing better and feed that data up, even if it means Colin needs to blow up the internet every once in a while.

Speaking of data, the last year I was involved in collegiate cycling (2002) we made the decision to give equal team points to women in the Eastern Conference races. A quick look at the results shows other conferences have followed suit, but that women are still underrepresented (i.e. not 50%, but probably better represented than in junior, elite, or masters racing.) There's your instrumental variable, Colin, in case you have any spare time to analyze what a little equality might do to help.
Anonymous said…
I think you were spot on! I was curious if there is an USAC rule about lap time and duration of the race.

The rule said that the lap duration is determined by the duration of the first 2 laps. At the third lap, it will bell lap or lap card. For a National Championship, I think that the junior racers merit to have a course design with appropriate distance, so they could do 3-4 laps. I did not go to Audtin but it is hard to believe that they could not find a way to reduce the lap time.
Kevin said…
Colin, one more variable to consider: My understanding is that the decision about which categories to race together is largely impacted by times on test laps the day before (in this case, 2 days before). The M 15-16 had 19 riders DNS and 2 DNF. Using these riders in their calculations may have led to the notion of needing to pass 20 riders. Maybe not. But it's something to at least acknowledge.

With regard to "I find the Chief Ref's unwillingness to acknowledge the hardship created for basically every teenage girl at the event who wasn't Emma White very disappointing." - Pretty much every response I saw late Monday and early Tuesday consisted of "USAC sucks and the officials really suck." This includes your original post. At this point, Dot and Micah are trying to beat down the flames and get the truth out there. Once people see eye-to-eye I would hope an apology would be forthcoming. An analogy: if your boss is yelling at you for screwing something up and has his/her facts completely wrong, what's the first thing you would do: apologize? Or make sure the facts were correct and then apologize for anything that was still done poorly?
Colin R said…

"My understanding is that the decision about which categories to race together is largely impacted by times on test laps the day before (in this case, 2 days before). "

I can't say I understand how this would even work. The juniors from 15-18 didn't race on Saturday, and the conditions changed a lot between then and Monday. So "test laps" would have to be "races by different ages, run in different conditions" which seems fairly inexact.

More importantly, this line of reasoning didn't appear anywhere in the Chief Ref's explanation, so I don't think it's terribly relevant in understanding what happened.

As far as your analogy -- if my boss is yelling at me for screwing up, and my response is going to be a prepared statement that have time to write, there's no reason I can't correct facts AND apologize for anything I think I did wrong. In fact, I think anyone who knows anything about smoothing incidents over would strongly recommend correcting as many facts as you can AND apologizing/empathizing in some way, EVEN IF you believe you did nothing wrong. Apologies are free. To not apologize/empathize with a group of people you've clearly upset that strongly sends the message that the facts are so clearly on your side that their point is entirely invalid, AND that you don't care about their feelings anyway.

So yeah, that's why I was disappointed.
Kevin said…
If you look at the schedule for Saturday here:

it includes 4:15-5:30 Sunday Categories Practice Only. Those practice laps were the times used to determine how fast, on average, each category would be doing the course. Clearly far from perfect but still based on the actual racers, not different age groups.

Dot's response was posted on social media Monday soon following the races, not as part of a prepared statement, but as an explanation of what happened. The prepared statement that was sent to the individual riders first and then released to the public yesterday opens with "First and foremost, we would like to apologize...we are truly sorry that this happened."

I get it, this doesn't change how things played out. But I also think people need to lay off Dot just a bit with the Tuesday morning officiating. It was a shit situation that I guarantee you she handled as best she could, got TONS of flack for with the benefit of hindsight, and tried to explain to a mob that had already made up their minds about what kind of official and person she is.
Colin R said…
Kevin --

I don't see how an open course window can be used as "test laps." No one is wearing a number, no one is scoring, and no one would be expected to ride their practice laps at race pace. I frequently stop on preride to redo sections or look at lines. There is absolutely nothing of value you could get from my practice lap times.

As far the chronology of a response goes, the Chief Ref's statement was posted to Facebook at 2:45 pm on Wednesday, shortly after the USAC CX Committee conference call wrapped up. I was on the phone with Pete Webber at this time, and he called me after their call.

So it's absolutely a prepared statement. She was on the call with the rest of the committee, they talked about what I wrote, and then she posted that as a summation of her position. Suggesting that it was written hastily is inaccurate.

Nevertheless, I really don't want to come down too hard on Dot personally here. The decision she had to make was rushed, stressful, and within the bounds of her own reasoning her solution is plausible. However, given the case I built against it, I think acknowledging that it was suboptimal and hurtful to a lot of participants is absolutely warranted, and would have gone a long way to fix things.

Additionally, there's no way this schedule didn't go in front of a few other people before getting approved. Just because the chief ref devises a schedule that focuses on the purity of the podium at the cost of common sense doesn't mean the promoter and USAC have to accept it. The universal reaction on twitter was "wait, what?" when the schedule was posted. It doesn't pass the common sense test, so there's no excuse for anyone to sign off on it without at least thinking about it a little bit. Blaming Dot solely is completely unfair, in my opinion.
Kevin said…
My mistake. Dot posted twice about what happened. I was looking at the timestamp on her first post, which indeed happened on Monday.

I'm also not saying that using the practice laps makes sense. Just that my understanding is it was based somehow off what was happening during those laps. Maybe they saw a huge variance in the M 15-16 speeds and decided it would be bad to mix them with another field. I don't know. I just don't think the grouping was pulled out their ass, that's all.

In any case, what it comes down to for me is my frustration at what happened at the races quickly became overshadowed by my frustration at the vitriol leveled at USAC and Dot. As has since come out, there were way more factors in play than "Dot hates girls so screwed them over." Just as you said "Throwing numbers around that are close but not equal to the facts is totally not cool with me" so I'm totally not cool with people throwing information around that is not equal to the facts. That's what happened and (from what I've seen) continues to happen. It gets hard to listen to good points when they're surrounded by partial truths and pure meanness.

For the record, I agree with you that the girls' race was way too confusing and they were given short shrift. I'll consider but am not entirely convinced that running them with the M 15-16 would have been clear enough to avoid the situation as it happened and we wouldn't be having a similar discussion. In this, that, or any situation other than the original schedule I absolutely agree that USAC needs to apologize (done), own their fair share of what happened (done), make amends (partially done), and make clear how they've learned and what they'll do differently in the future (not done).
Anonymous said…
Official X says,

1. Time to run a seperate master CX nats and another CX nats with Elites, U23, Jrs, & Collegiate, if I missed a class put them with the appropriate CX nats.

2. Avoid venues that have any associations with Friends of, Foundation for, etc. Just run away...

For the scheduling that could have been an easy fix to a worst case scenario. Combine similar speed groups when forced to do so. In short, race the boys with boys and the girls with girls so there isn't such a different in speed between the fastest and slowest riders.

Send the Jr Boys 15-16 off 30-60 seconds after the Jr Boys 17-18. All of them racing the same time duration 35-40 minutes. Same for the young ladies with a 30-35 minute long race. Possible mercy finishes for the riders further back depending upon lap times and trying to keep up with the rest of the days schedule.

Granted this may have put a lot of bodies on the course for a group but this usually sorts its self out. I think I saw something on another site about a 3rd place rider being able to move through traffic better than the 4th place rider thus the 3rd place rider deserved their placing. Yes I fully agree. Luck plays a factor but it typically isn't that significant. The stronger, better, and smarter riders always seem to get to the front.

Hard to believe the course length couldn't be changed for the Jrs on Monday.

Never pull riders when mixing classes period. If only one category on the course don't pull riders for the Jrs, Women 3-4s, Men 4-5s, and usually the masters. Master may sometimes get pulled if the field size is huge and in that case the leaders are owed a clear course. In most cases a decent judge should be able to sort through the scoring and get the placings correct.

For the rest of the higher category riders you should be fit and able to race to your limit. Having a bad day well maybe retiring to the cooler isn't a bad idea. Have a seat, pop a beer, then cheer on your friends once you peeled off those stanky clothes. Big fields for you big guns we'll probably have to pull you but doesn't mean we like it either, the leaders expect and are owed a clear course.

Add on folks as sites are being read and watch by those who race, officiate, and care about our sport...
High Voltage said…
A couple of points:

- When I saw Dot's original post that said only 3 girls would have finished 2 laps with the 35 minute deadline, I had to remind her that the lap times she was looking at didn't take the delay into account. She edited her post to include 7 15-16 women would have finished a second lap.

- Pete Webber also talks about how changes were made after Madison when the 13-14 girls were only allowed to do 1 lap for their 20 minute race. Hmmm... that was 2 years ago. Anyone think that the 15-16 year olds that were affected this year were also affected 2 years ago? That certainly wasn't lost on me as my daughter was affected both times. USAC keeps "learning" on the same group of girls.
Colin R said…

I hear you, and a lot of the baseless vitriol bums me out, too, especially when I know I had a major part in starting it. The fact that 50k people read the first blog and 2k read this one really frustrates me, but at the same time, if 50k people hadn't read the first one the issue never would have gotten any analysis at all.

I think we agree on most things, most especially this one:

"and make clear how they've learned and what they'll do differently in the future (not done)."

Although, I never did see an apology. I saw a blanket "we're sorry about Sunday getting canceled in Austin" at the beginning of the letter from Micah, but nothing about the junior girls specifically. But whatever. Maybe I missed it. There was some stuff on their FB recently about giving those girls a free entry to a nationals next year, so that's cool. Definitely the biggest step toward acknowledging that group got shortchanged that they've made so far.
chester said…
There is no doubt it was a tough officiating moment.

IMO, the point most of you are missing is USAC has only issued another half @lssed "eff the critics" missive and shifted the controversy to the chief ref.

Meanwhile, OBRA runs generally full women's fields without pulling riders. It's not rocket science.

Yet most of you will renew the license with an org you have no say at and treats you like excrement.

Meanwhile, they still support dopers and doping. I don't get it.

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