By JOHN A. GILBERT
Several subscribers to ConcreteCanoe.org have asked me to comment on this year's competition and take a shot at handicapping the field. So, rather telling my story over and over again, I decided to write something up.
Let me begin by saying that the opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Team UAH, ASCE, ConcreteCanoe.org, and/or the sponsors of the 2004 NCCC. Remember, it's only for fun... What do I know anyway?
But, just for the record, I picked eight schools for top honors in 2000 and seven of them actually placed among the top eight. In 2001, I picked seven schools as potential top five picks... my top five choices actually finished top five and nearly in the order specified.
In 2002, I targeted eight schools for the top five... and four of them actually made it. In my 2002 commentary, I explained that I underestimated the capabilities of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, who placed fifth in the competition, simply because I thought that they would be overwhelmed while hosting it.
Last year, the Badgers went on to win the title; and, along with Laval and Clemson, were one of my favorites. But I had no time to make predictions, since I was busy preparing the 2003 NCCC coverage for ConcreteCanoe.org.
That may be to your advantage if you're a competitor this year because I wrote down every question posed by the judges to the teams during the academic presentations. So if your school was fortunate enough to qualify in 2004, you may want to read through this material because you may have to address similar issues this year.
It's what's in the mix that counts...
I paddled my first concrete canoe in 1976 as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. Since then, I've seen concrete canoe competitions progress from the regional to the national level.
Once looked upon as spoofs designed to capture the public's attention, today's competitions amount to serious business... with competitors showcasing revolutionary new developments in reinforced concrete technology that command and attract international attention. If you don't think so, try searching the web by entering the string "concrete canoe" on Goggle and you'll see approximately 100,000 sites. So, before I get down to the business of handicapping, I feel compelled to say a few words about the direction in which things are going and their influence on this year's competition.
The 2004 NCCC should be the most exciting concrete canoe competition to date and I look forward to learning more about the revelations in concrete technology that I know several members of our national contingent are developing. However, the new rules restricting the water to cementitious materials ratio to a maximum of 0.5 and requiring the addition of sand to the concrete mix in significant proportions have thrown us back toward the stone age. Stiff and heavy concrete mixes that lack tensile strength are not conducive to building hydro-dynamically, dynamically, and structurally efficient boats and chances are that most of this year's entries will be much heavier, stiffer, slower, and more fragile than those fielded in the past.
Weight is a critical parameter for canoe racing and, with a length of 23 feet and a weight of 49 lb, "Rapid Fire" remains the longest and lightest concrete canoe on record. We may see faster and more structurally sound hulls than this in 2004 because of breakthroughs in technology. But the fact is that the lightest entry in this year's field (Minnesota's 18.5 foot long "L'Etoile du Nord") weights 105 lb... more than twice the weight of Rapid Fire.
This is unfortunate because our hull speeds were quickly approaching those of Olympic competitors and, with recent advancements in cementitious materials and dynamic tuning of reinforced cementitious structures, I believe that some of our teams could produce a product that would be on even keel with the world's fastest canoes. Can you imagine the recognition and thrill of victory that would come if a representative from our concrete canoe contingent won in Olympic competition against some of the world's best teams?
If these restrictions were removed, the organizers would play a lead role in bringing cementitious composites to the attention of the aerospace industry. At the same time, the competition sponsors could take advantage of creative new talent and revolutionary developments in concrete technology to secure significant market shares in arenas that could be on the order of billions of dollars. The participants would become invaluable to academia, government, and industry as developers and experts in the field. Who knows... someone who reads this might even become wealthy enough to co-sponsor and help financially underwrite the NCCC.
Okay ladies and gentlemen... I'll get off my soap box now and say what I always say... "every one of this year's national qualifiers is already a winner and this competition amounts to selecting the best of the best."
What's in store for 2004...
The veterans know that it takes a balanced effort and a cool head to become the national champion. In the end, I believe that the key to victory lies in a team's ability to cope with human dynamics while under pressure, and it remains to be seen which school will have the correct balance of composure, skill, and luck to win this year's competition. But here's how I see it (hyperlinks point to statistics, logos to web sites):
The University of Wisconsin - Madison carries momentum going into the 2004 NCCC as the defending national champion. Host of the design report page for ConcreteCanoe.org, the Badgers are a veteran team that has appeared ten times at the national level. They will be working hard to remain on top. But UW-Madison will encounter stiff competition this year in the design paper and oral presentation categories... and the Badgers will need to improve their product and field a strong paddling team to take top honors again this year. Considering the team's experience and past performances, they will finish top five.
With thirteen national appearances under their belt and the highest average performance record in the game, Team UAH is the veteran at the 2004 NCCC. The host of ConcreteCanoe.org had a very strong showing in the Southeast with "ConQuest" sweeping the technical events despite fierce competition from rivals UF and FIT. Alabama-Huntsville will represent the twenty-two schools that competed there and with five national titles to their credit and a power-packed delivery, this team has has what it takes to win... and, if they can keep their cool, will finish top five.
The Universite Laval qualified for the 2004 ASCE/MBT National as a seven time Canadian National Champion. Host of the photo galleries and video presentations pages for ConcreteCanoe.org, they have become a major player in the U.S. competition and have been steadily improving in recent years. But after finishing two years in a row in second place, there's no place left to go... but to the winners circle. So, will our neighbors to the north be the first international competitor to take the U.S. title? That remains to be seen. But every indication is that Laval will finish top five.
Clemson keeps the spreadsheets for the national concrete competitions on behalf of ConcreteCanoe.org. They are a three-time national champion and have been the regional representative from the Carolina's Conference for twelve years - the longest consecutive regional winning streak in the game. On record, 3CT has fielded the strongest paddling teams in recent years and they have the experience, teamwork, and technical delivery that it takes to win. But with increased emphasis placed on the technical events and smaller delta points in the water, their athletic ability will be less important. If no major glitches occur in their delivery, Clemson will finish top five.
Interestingly enough, the four national title holders mentioned above are the major proponents behind ConcreteCanoe.org. Between them, they have appeared 43 times at the national level in the U.S. competition and have a combined total of 16 national titles to their credit (9 U.S. and 7 Canadian).
A side by side comparison shows that the Badgers and Laval have been on an upward spiral at the national level while Team UAH and 3CT have been very consistent and pretty much at the top from the get go. Team UAH is the only one of the four teams to place first in the design report category and they have accomplished this feat three times ('94,'99,'01). Wisconsin and Clemson won the oral presentation category twice (Badgers in '00,'03 and 3CT in '99,'02) whereas UAH placed first in this category four times ('91,'93,'94,'96). The three schools to win the best product are UAH ('93,'94,'98,'99), Laval ('01), and Clemson ('00). As far as overall design points are concerned, the Badgers placed first once ('03), Team UAH four times ('93,'94,'98,'01), and 3CT twice ('99,'00). In the water, Clemson and UAH scored the most race points five times each (3CT in '98,'00,'01,'02,'03 and Team UAH in '93,'94,'96,'97,'99).
As far as their boats are concerned, Laval has the lightest and shortest hull (20' 8"; 117 lb) while Wisconsin has the heaviest and longest (21' 8"; 180 lb). The boats fielded by Clemson (21' 5"; 137 lb) and UAH (21' 1"; 148 lb) fall between these extremes.
The statistics and year-to-year performances of these four schools may vary. But one thing is certain... they're all very, very good competitors. So, if you didn't qualify this year, it may be a good idea to send a contingent to Washington and check these teams out... because if you can acquire their talents and combine their attributes... your team will be in the winners circle in 2005.
California State - Sacramento (best design paper and oral presentation in '98), Western Kentucky (most design points in '02 and best product in '03), the University of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State University (best design paper in '00), pose dangerous threats to the past national champions. The schools mentioned in this paragraph know how to play the game very well and have had their sites set on winning the national title for years. With their experience, some of the best technical deliveries in the game, and their ability to field very fast boats, these teams will challenge for the lead and my prediction is that at least one of them will finish top five.
There are a number of other schools who could place top five, even upset the field and win, or influence the final outcome by scoring major points in one or more categories. All I can say is that the big guns better keep a watchful eye on fierce competitors such as Drexel (best display and oral presentation in '88) and Michigan Tech.
If you're a gambler and like to bet on long shots... watch Texas A&M, North Carolina State University, and the University of Minnesota (best oral presentation in '01). A&M swept the Texas-Mexico Regional and, along with UAH and Laval, have been actively promoting their theme from the get go. NC State was fueled by 3CT in the Carolinas and may be stoked to move toward the top. Minnesota has demonstrated that they can score a significant number of points at the national level and a top five finish is well within their grasp.
Schools returning from past years include: Louisiana State University, New Mexico State University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. The six newcomers are Cal Poly - Pomona, Fairmont State College, the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, Montana State University, Polytechnic University (Brooklyn), and Villanova University. The veterans have played this game before. So chances are that some of them will make strong showings. The newcomers will be under intense pressure. But if they keep their cool, they may strike some significant blows by placing high in one or all categories.
But, barring an upset, my best guess is that the top five teams will come from among the eight schools highlighted above. One never knows though, and the rest of the field will want to prove me wrong - dead wrong. But if you do, you can be certain that your school will be among my top picks next year!
In closing, I wish all of the national qualifiers the very best of luck at this year's competition and hope that you'll take time to say hello to Team UAH and me in Washington, DC as we compete for the national title and report for ConcrereCanoe.org. More importantly, if you enjoy this type of coverage and want to help support ConcreteCanoe.org, "the world's largest and most comprehensive data base on concrete canoeing," please contact me. We'll put your school to work and give you the exposure that you deserve. By adding a link on your site to ConcreteCanoe.org, you and your school can help promote the competition. So please see our graphics and instructions for doing so. Thanks!
I think that we all can agree when I say, "Let the best team win!"... And, just in case we're beaten by your team, I'll be encouraging mine to remember a quote from UC Berkeley's William Hung who so famously put it, "I already gave it my best, I have no regrets at all." Fitting remarks made on behalf of a four-time national concrete canoe championship team... Watch for their representatives in Washington because they will be there... painstakingly observing and trying to get that edge for next year.
Well, it's over for 2004 and the top five teams have been established (UW Madison, Laval, UAH, 3CT, and MSOE). As usual, there was never a dull moment at the competition and there were some surprises.
I pegged four out of five of the top finishers. But my hat goes off to MSOE (Milwaukee School of Engineering) for placing an impressive fifth. I underestimated this team's prowess... and their first place oral presentation was awesome. They also placed second in the design report category behind UAH. Laval won the final product and Clemson scored the most race points.
By placing top five, UW Madison and MSOE did the Great Lakes Region proud and my prediction is that we will see these teams return to the nationals next year. Needless to say, both schools will be among my top picks in 2005. All I can say is great job guys on an impressive top five finish!