Author: Deborah Lewis
This document describes a proposal to provide an automated
solution for calculating age class combined and Divisions Cup standings for the
USSA alpine masters national championships. The standings for these combined awards were
calculated by hand at the 2000 National Masters Championships in
Automating the combined calculations with a software system that works in conjunction with the existing timing system used to run the individual championship races will simplify the process for the race organizers, reduce the time and duplication of effort involved, and eliminate errors that can be inadvertently introduced when computing combined event standings manually.
Timing Systems for Alpine Ski Competition
Running a USSA sanctioned alpine ski competition requires use of an electronic timing system and the support of a race timing software system to manage the hardware, record the timing data, and produce the reports and files required by USSA and FIS competition rules. In addition, running a scored USSA race requires support from the timing software for the national points list ranking system. The timing system software should be able to load the USSA national points list data files so that current competitor rankings are automatically kept up-to-date and must be able to generate a race results data file in a specific format which is returned to USSA so that the race results can be incorporated back into the national ranking system.
The primary purpose of a race timing software system is to support the operation of individual ski races: entry and editing of data about the race and the participating competitors, generating entry and start lists according to the competition rules, running the timing devices and recording the timing data during the actual competition, and producing results reports and data files that conform to USSA and FIS specifications. A number of timing programs are available for this purpose and are used by race organizers.
The standard USSA timing software system is produced by Split Second Timing, a Vermont-based supplier of sports timing systems. USSA has an agreement by Split Second whereby a “non-timing” version of the software is freely available to USSA clubs and race organizers. The timing version of the software can be licensed or purchased from Split Second. The non-timing version of the Split Second software provides all the standard functions of the program except for supporting the actual timing hardware devices. This enables a non-timing version of the software to be used in the race organizer’s office to handle such tasks as race registration, creating start orders, printing reports, and generating the standard USSA timing data file. Data interchange capabilities allow race data to be exchanged between the office system and the actual on-hill timing system which is used to run the race timing during the competition.
See Appendix A for an overview of the Split Second Timing software.
USSA Alpine Masters National Championships
The USSA Alpine Masters organize an annual national
championship event for licensed masters competitors
from divisions across the
The standard USSA race timing software fully supports the operation of the individual discipline competitions. The discipline championship medals awarded to the top 3 finishers in each age class are easily determined for the standard race results reports produced by the timing software.
There are two additional types of awards made at the Masters nationals which are not directly supported by the standard timing systems, however. Both are “combined” events which are based on the cumulative results of competitors across the individual events of the championships. First, age class combined awards for the top 3 finishers in each class are determined by the cumulative race points of the competitors from each of the three events (SL, GS, and SG). Second, a Divisions Cup is awarded to the division with the strongest results according to an average points/start formula.
Note: An additional combined-event award based on competition at the Masters Nationals is the selection of the Spyder National Masters team. The national team member in each class is determined by the overall winner of the three-event combined when rankings are computed using the “old” world cup points system. The world-cup-combined scoring computation is not addressed in the current proposal, although such support could be considered for addition in the future.
--####ISSUE: Are the regional champions at the Eastern and Western masters regional championships determined by race-points-combined or by world-cup-combined scoring??
Manually computing the age class combined standings and the Divisions Cup standings is a tedious effort, requiring that competitor results from each individual race be collected. Manual solutions such as using handwritten sheets and a calculator or using a spreadsheet to accumulate the individual results is both time-consuming and error-prone, since data already maintained by the timing system software must be manually re-entered into the combined event worksheets.
This is just plain bad. There is no reason to do this sort of computation by hand when the data is already available in a form which can be processed by a computer program. Fundamental principle of software: never do a repetitive task by hand when a tool can be written to automate the process. And also: never do things twice – once is enough.
The automated system for Masters combined event scoring (CES) should have the following properties:
The CES software must be able to run on a computer running Microsoft Windows (Windows 95/98 or later???).
The CES software must be able to interoperate smoothly with the Split Second Timing alpine race timing software used by the race organizers.
Note: Observe this assumption that Split Second’s timing software will be used by the nationals organizers. If this is not the case or if other supporting software systems are also used by the race organizers to support race registration and operations, interactions and interoperability between the CES software and the organizer’s software systems must be separately analyzed to determine whether there are useful data interchange operations that can be supported. But any timing system that can generate the standard USSA race data file provides the key data needed to automate the combined event scoring, as discussed in the following section.
The CES software must be usable by an operator who is reasonably familiar with the basic operation of a Windows PC and with the timing software. Specialized computer skills should not be required. User documentation must be provided that describes how to install and operate the software.
If available, the CES software should be validated using actual results data from previous USSA national masters championships. If real results data is not available, a suitable test data suite should be agreed upon so that the CES software can be verified as providing correct and desirable facilities for automating the process of combined event scoring at USSA masters competitions.
This section describes the operation of the proposed Masters Combined Event Scoring (CES) software to automate the masters championships combined event scoring. A basic understanding of the Split Second timing software is assumed; see Appendix A for an overview and brief description of the general operation of the Split Second Timing software.
Figure 1 depicts how the Masters CES software will be used in conjunction with the standard Split Second Timing race timing software to automate the combined event scoring process.
Timing System and Race Operation
The individual races at the Masters championships will be conducted in the usual fashion by the race crew, using the standard Split Second Timing race timing software to support race operations and generate the individual event results. The top section of Figure 1 shows the basic elements of the race timing operations.
Prior to the race, the Split Second system must be set up with the race description and the list of racers entered in the competition. The manual data entry and editing process for creating the list of competitors in the race can be accelerated by optionally loading the current USSA points list, which enables some editing accelerators in the software, or by loading competitor list from an input file produced by other means. To conduct the race, the Split Second system is used to generate the start lists and interact with the electronic timing system to record timing data for the event.
At the completion of the race, results reports are produced and the standard USSA data file containing all relevant data on the competition is exported. Optionally, an simple export file containing basic timing data values for the competitors in the race can also be created.
Timing System Data Exchange Files
The center section of Figure 1 shows the standard data files that the Split Second timing software uses and produces. The racer data input file is shown with a dotted outline to indicate that it is an optional element in the overall process of running the race. Such a file could be produced by a supporting utility which would used during the registration process, if such a tool is available and used by the race organizers. No assumptions are currently being made about the existence of such a registration support tool, however.
Having a registration support tool which can produce the “comps.txt” racer data
input file which Split Second can use to load the competitor list for a
specific race might enable some simplifications in the operation of the Masters
CES system, as well as facilitating event registration and the initial setup of
race data in the Split Second timing software for masters races. I believe race organizers tend to currently
do this in a somewhat ad-hoc way, such as using a simple spreadsheet to record
entry information such as payments and races entered. Lack of tools to simplify masters
race registration is a recognized problem in the
The key file produced by the timing system is the USSA race data file, a standard text-based file format which contains all the information about the race and the timing results for all competitors. The optionally generated timing data file contains a simplified subset of the overall race data, consisting of simply the basic competitor identification and timing data without any of the overall race specifications contained in the complete USSA
Masters Combined Event Scoring (CES) System
The bottom section of Figure 1 shows the elements involved in automating the combined event scoring by making use of the existing data files for the timing system. The following operations are performed in order to do combined scoring using the Masters CES software.
1. Create the event description
This initial step involves a relatively small amount of manual data input to set up the CES software with basic information about the event. Data values that should be entered include:
2. Load the competitor list
The Masters CES software will maintain a master list of all competitors in the event so that competitor results from each of the individual races in the event can be correctly correlated in the computation of the combined standings for age class and divisional awards. The software will provide import operations which allow the complete competitor list for the event can be loaded from the existing timing system data files. Little or no manual data entry will be required to perform this step.
The precise details of this step need to be specified in greater detail and may depend on how the race organizer does registration. The key point is that the combined event competitor list will be loaded from existing data files, either from comps.txt racer data files used to load the Split Second timing system or by extracting the necessary information from the USSA results data files. Extracting information from the USSA national points list file may also be an option for providing this capability, assuming that we can rely on all currently licensed masters competitors being listed (albeit without ranking points, which aren’t necessary for the combined scoring in any case).
3. Load the results data from each race
The results data for all competitors in each event will be loaded directly from the standard race results data files produced by the timing system. No manual entry of times or finish positions will be required.
4. Generate the combined event standings
The software will use the timing system results data to compute the standings for the age class combined and the Divisions Cup. Reports will be generated in both text (print) and HTML (Web) format.
And that should be it. No more late nights with worksheets and calculators trying to ensure that all the starts and points from every division’s competitors are properly tabulated or that race points are correctly transcribed and added up properly. Computers are good at this kind of stuff - let the software do the tedious stuff so the racers and the organizers can all go do something more interesting with their lives.
Proof of Concept
The proposed system for automating the combined scoring at the national championships is similar to a system which has recently been developed to automate the season standings calculations for the Far West Masters. The Far West Masters maintain season standings for all competitors over the course of the season, using a point system based on the old World Cup scoring system. Season awards are given to the top racers in each age group at the end of the season, according to their rankings based on competition results over the entire season. See Appendix B for a more detailed discussion of the FWM season standings software.
The Far West Masters season standings scoring software is based on the same principles as the proposed Masters CES system: provide an automated system for computing multi-race standings which uses the standard results data files produced by the timing system software to eliminate the need to manual data entry and computation. It has been in use for two seasons and has proven to be a reliable and efficient solution.
Q: So why can’t we just use the existing FWM scoring software for the nationals combined scoring?
A: Although quite similar, the current FWM season scoring system does not provide a complete solution for automating combined scoring for the masters nationals. First, using the FWM season standings tools requires detailed computer skills under certain circumstances. Such cases are increasingly infrequent, as improvements are made to the software each season, but are occasionally necessary and are not explained in any user documentation. This is not a desirable characteristic for the CES software, which should provide improved capabilities so that a general user can operate the software. In addition, there are some steps which are still done by “external magic” in the FWM system, notably the creation of the season racer list from information extracted from the FWM membership database. This capability needs to be provided for in a simple fashion by the CES software. Finally, the FWM season standings use a different formula for computing competitor standings (world cup points combined). The formulas used for the nationals combined (race points combined) and the Divisions Cup need to be supported in the CES software.
Figure A1 provides an overview of the Split Second timing software system for a USSA alpine ski competition.
The standard USSA points list data files published by USSA Competition Services can be loaded to provide accelerated entry of competitor data, as well as ensuring that USSA license and national points rankings are automatically maintained up-to-date.
For each race that is to be run, the race administrator creates a race definition which specifies such information as the race location, date, type (SL, GS, SG, DH), course specifications, jury and organizer information, etc. Many races can be created, with the data for each maintained in separate data files.
All competitors must be entered into the race data. Competitor data entry may be done manually, with input assistance provided by the software if USSA points list data has been loaded, or by using an operation which copies the competitor list from a previous race. Competitors may be added or removed from the racer list in the period leading up to the race.
Note: Split Second’s timing software also provides an import operation which can load a racer list directly into the race data by reading an input file in a well-defined text-based format. This allows the option of using a supporting program to assist in managing the race registration data, so long as the registration support system can generate the racer list data file in the necessary import format.
When the race data and competitor list is complte, entry list reports and starting list reports can be generated by the software. Operations are supported in the software which provide the race administrator a variety of methods for sorting the competitors and generating the start order for the race.
During the competition, the timing-enabled version of the Split Second software is hooked to the electronic timing system devices and used to record the timing data. In a 2-run competition, the competitors’ times from the first run and the appropriate rules for the second run order (turn-15, turn-30, fastest-to-slowest, slowest-to-fastest) are used to generate the second-run start order and start list report.
At the completion of the race, the Split Second timing software automatically computes combined time (if appropriate) and race points. Results reports can then be printed and the standard format results data file which must be submitted to USSA generated.
The Split Second software also supports an export operation which creates a data file in a simple text-based format containing the “raw” timing date from the race. This .TMG format file contains basic competitor identification such as name and bib, plus the actual first/second run and combined times from the race timing system.
Note: The “raw” timing data import/export is primarily intended as a mechanism for data exchange between the race organizer’s system in the office, where administrative data entry and reporting is typically done, and the timing system on the hill, where the actual race timing occurs. However, this race results data file can also be used by other supporting race management software which can read the data files, such as a combined event scoring system or the season standings management system used by the Far West Masters.
The proposed system for automating the combined scoring at the national championships is similar to a system which has recently been developed to automate the season standings calculations for the Far West Masters. The Far West Masters maintain season standings for all competitors over the course of the season, using a point system based on the old World Cup scoring system. Season awards are given to the top racers in each age group at the end of the season, according to their rankings based on competition results over the entire season.
For many years, the
The FWM season standings tool is configured with a list of
active competitors from the
Figure B1 depicts
the FWM race data management tools which are used to publish individual race
results in Web format and to compute and publish the overall season standings
Besides saving a great deal of manual effort, automating the season standings calculations in Far West has had the additional benefit that standings can now be continuously updated and published on the Far West Masters web site throughout the season. Making this information readily available has increased interest and participation, since members can now easily see and compare their relative rankings as the competition season progresses.
Race results and updated season standings are now routinely published within 1-2 days of a weekend race series. The actual processing time once the race data files are obtained is typically less than an hour; most of the turnaround time is consumed by the logistics of obtaining the timing data files from the race organizers and coordinating the update of the web site.
D. J. Lewis