The European Version of a Stupid Contest
By Paolo Cortese, I2UIY / NH7DX,
(written for CQ Contest - March 1996)
If you're an NCJ subscriber perhaps you've already read the article on page 13 of the November/December 1993 issue, where I created the "stupid contest" definition. The Sprint was certainly a new and enrapturing experience for me because, until that time, I had just read about it in NCJ. I must admit that I had a prejudice against the contest because of its strange QSY rule. The fact that many Americans were crazy for the contest was absolutely secondary to me.
Have you ever met one of these so-called Sprint enthusiasts? Have you ever met W6OAT, N6AA, N6ZZ, K7SS? Have you ever visited W6OAT and his cats? If you have, he certainly took you on his personal tour of San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, the cable cars, and the Cliff House. When you ask Rusty why the Cliff House is famous, he answers, as if revealing a State Secret, that's the place where the NA Sprint was born. Then he'll show you where he was seated that afternoon, only then can you say you've really been to San Francisco. Are you sure these people are "normal?" Are you? Nooooo! Yeah, I agree, they are not.
I try the contestI had to try the contest myself before I could change my point of view. My chance came during my 1992 visit to California. I had the prospect to enter the September CW Sprint from WB6OKK's QTH (Thanks again, Rick). He agreed both to feed me (that was a real risk!) and let me use his fine shack.
Of course, you need to immerse yourself "inside" the contest for a while before you get hooked at all. Sprint is very different from any European contest. It's cool, absolutely not "Mediterranean," so you need to accustom yourself to its formula. No regards, no comments, possibly no mistakes sending that unusual exchange
At the beginning, the Eu newcomer always makes a few mistakes with the exchange It quite unusual to us to send both callsigns each time and no RST.
The next obstacle occurs when you try to say hello to your friends. They don't even seem to care if it's you. Sometimes they are even doubtful that a guest-opr. is manning the shack as the name sent is different (this is called the "Ed rule" where everyone is named Ed). Once you've gotten over these hurdles, you find yourself really hooked and "into" the contest. Now the pleasure starts. In one's first Sprint, it's probably impossible to get four full hours of fun, you spend at least the first hour feeling hesitant as to whether you should go on or stop.
The rest of the time is fun!When I returned home, I started thinking about if and how it might be possible to organize such an event in Europe that would reproduce, even partially, the success of the NA Sprint. The main obstacle was continental communications. If you're planning to put on something really new and unusual, you must be able to keep the people informed about it to reach the greatest number of potentially interested people. This certainly wasn't easy because there's not a single ham magazine that's read all over Europe. I also reasoned that it would be very difficult for a single Association or Club to organize such a contest.
Furthermore, the official organization of a Sprint could present a major problem. Associations must act in accordance with IARU rules, so an IARU allocation might be needed.
This was too much for my interested friends and I, as we still didn't know if Europeans would like this type of contest as much as Americans do I started to think that, perhaps, I could ask some foreign friends to cooperate, so that's what I did. The first broadside of letters was mailed on January 16, 1994 to G4BUO, OK2FD, DJ6QT, OH6EI, and ON6JG.
Some offered assistance immediately and some had more trouble with the idea Fortunately, no one rejected it completely, and this was a positive first step. Unfortunately, the distance and the communication difficulties caused delays, but we went on. Five copies of each letter and each answer were sent out. With the exception of G4BUO and me, nobody else was on Internet, so fax and mail were the only way to stay in touch.
Our main questions were:
- Do we want use the NA Sprint rules?
- How about the dates?
After some discussions, most of the organizers voted to have no multipliers at all in order to avoid this problem. As time went on, each organizer presented his own ideas, this was certainly helpful. Due to propagation limits, we decided to hold the contest from 1500 to 1859 Zulu. This schedule wasn't bad, even though most western stations (like CTs) have some problems working 80 meters at that time of the day. I felt we made a mistake by allowing to operators to use the initials of their names for the contest exchange instead of a name or nickname. This rule created a lot of confusion.
We started thinking about making a photocopy of the NA Sprint, as we were making some major changes step-by-step, but the spirit of the original Sprint remained intact. Last, but not least, we decided to offer no prizes, no certificates, nothing. The winner's only reward would be seeing his callsign on top of the list. Obviously, we made this decision partly because we lacked a sponsor. Plans were to manage the contest in turns, and OK2FD was elected (or compelled?) to be the first Eu Sprint Manager: congrat's Karel, you made it!
We sent out letters to all the Associations, magazines, and bulletins. Unfortunately, it was already July and so, some probably weren't able to print our rules in time, as the first run of the Sprint was scheduled for October 1st (CW) and 8th (SSB). Some didn't print the information at all because they didn't like the fact that we had chosen to have our Sprint the same weekend the VK/ZL-Oceania Contest was overturning the modes. We felt that an event like the Sprint wouldn't damage the VK/ZL in any way, seeing as they were held at the opposite side of the world and in a different mode. Obviously there were those that didn't agree
Our first EU Sprint attemptBased on these premises the results were really good: OK2FD received 95 logs for CW and 60 for SSB. I don't know how long the NA Sprint took to take off during its early days, or how many logs were received, but I guess our result really wasn't bad at all. The CW honors went to Ben, DL6RAI, who won logging 177 QSOs. He was followed by LY1DS (173) and DL1IAO(171). On SSB, the winner was Enzo, IK6BOB, with 161 QSOs, he beat I8NHJ and LY1DS, both with 159. Scoring by QSO number makes the competition very exciting, because you always know how fast the other competitors are going.
I wasn't able to participate seriously in either event, as I spent those hours trying to see how many were really following the rules and how many were not. The QSY rule was respected by the majority of the entrants: I'll say about 80 percent, while only 40 percent were probably sending both callsigns. I guess these numbers are pretty good as first, this was our initial attempt, second, the contest sounded pretty unusual to Europeans and, third, it wasn't advertised enough.
The first Eu Sprint wasn't over yet, but we were already working on the next one This was the third time I worked on a newly born contest, and I already knew that one can never advertise these things enough The popular Bavarian Contest Club decided to cooperate with us fully, so we had new input. Four 1995 Sprints were scheduled, and the rules were sent out long in advance, pointing out that the exchanges would have no validity if both callsigns were not sent. The only change in the rules was made on the exchange initials were no longer allowed, and the minimum length of a name/nickname was changed to three characters, no more Ed and Al.
The spring Eu Sprint was held on April 15th (SSB) and May 20th (CW), the autumn leg took place on October 7th (SSB) and 14th (CW). In the meantime, IK4EWK and DL2NBU wrote contest software, which we are now distributing free of charge.
By monitoring the bands during the first two Sprints this year, we learned that the major portion of the participants are now sending the correct exchanges, and almost everyone respects the QSY rule. Some Eu notables entered the Sprints this year, this is a sign that we didn't all work so hard for nothing. But, there's still much work to do I hope within a couple of years we'll have an exact picture of our contest.
Looking to the futureFor 1996, we'll study some new allocations for the four scheduled Sprints. This isn't easy as there is an incredible number of events, and not a single available weekend. We've received requests to open the participation to extra-European stations, as well as to allow SWL entries. The Contest Committee will discuss and vote on these requests. I'm well disposed to opening the Eu Sprint to DX stations. I feel this may bring more activity, though I'm afraid the very low power Eu stations may be overshadowed if 20 meters is open to the USA. Anyway, we'll listen to everyone's opinion before we decide. For your information, the Eu Sprint Gang is run by DL6RAI, G4BUO, I2UIY, and OK2FD. ON6NL is a special advisor.
So that's the story of the birth of the European version of what seemed to me to be a stupid contest. I don't know if it will become as famous and beloved as its North American older brother, but the Eu Sprint Gang and I hope so. My only regret is that the whole Gang never met all at once. Unlike W6OAT, I can't drive visitors to and show them the place where the Eu Sprint was born. Not to worry, I've already decided that if our Sprint takes off I'll probably invent d nice, romantic, picturesque legend to tell the ignorant foreign visitors "It was a rainy Saturday night...".
(by I2UIY, for CQ Contest Magazine, 1996)
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