I have fond memories of the World YoYo Contest stage at the Rosen Plaza Hotel. I competed there in 1A, 5A, and Combined divisions, I practiced there late at night to hide my tricks from my biggest rival and good friend Makoto Numagami, I faced public humiliation (and fame) at the Wheel of Penalty, I earned my World Title there ten years ago, and I was awarded National Master on that stage.
2013 was the last of fourteen years when the World YoYo Contest was held in Orlando. In many ways, the contest’s history throughout those years has influenced my own, and the development of yoyoing as a sport owes much of its current state to the Orlando era.
My own yoyo career started in 2000, up until that time, the yoyo was no more than a toy for me. That was when I came upon this clip:
The 2000 World YoYo Contest was the first one held in Orlando, thanks to Gregory Cohen’s effort to save the event after a near disastrous 1999 contest in Honolulu — a symbolic end of the late 90’s boom.
That clip video got me instantly hooked. Paul Escolar, Kohta Watanabe, Hidemasa Senba, and the 2004/2013 AP World Champion Tomiyuki Watanabe were all there.
A very important addition was made to the contest structure in 2000: the X division. In 1999, counterweight play was introduced by Steve Brown, Hironori Mii got second place at that year’s World Yo-yo Contest 1A division playing offstring, you can see Doc Pop introducing some Mobius, and Rick Wyatt throwing some 3A in the clip above. The X division, then judged by the contestants themselves, marked the recognition of the new styles as a developing force.
The contest was held at Universal Studios, outside, in the merciless summer Orlando weather. Just walking outside for a couple of minutes in Orlando is a torture, but in 2000, the entire contest was held in the Florida heat, humidity, and rain. Thankfully, that was the first and last time that happened, and the contest found a new home next year: the Rosen Plaza.
From 2001 to 2013, the Rosen Plaza Hotel, in Orlando’s overly-touristic International Drive, was a yoyo haven for three days a year. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by other yoyo players for 72 hours. During the other 362 days of the year, you were the oddball yo-yo player, but during Worlds in Orlando, it felt like the World’s population was composed solely of fellow players.
Having a contest inside also meant perfect conditions for yoyoing, leading to an exponential increase in trick difficulty on the stage. But 2001 also set the precedent for the Artistic Performance division. Yu Kawada, the previous year’s 1A winner stunned the crowd by focusing on the performance aspect of his routine rather than going technical. He would not win 1A in 2001, but his freestyle inspired the creation of the AP division the next year. A division he would win himself in 2006 and 2013.
Note the almost complete lack of sponsors in the background. The scene would not recover so easily from the burst of the previous yoyo bubble.
My own first appearance at the World YoYo Contest was in 2002, competing in 1A, when compulsories were still in place. My first participation would end rather soon, missing Pop ‘n Fresh twice in a row. The judges for that trick were my now editor Steve Brown, and my current colleague at the IYYF board of directors, Hironori Mii. “Try again next year” — were Steve’s words as I climbed down from the little compulsories stage disappointed with my performance.
I would come back the next year, for sure. 2003 was another breakthrough year for the World YoYo Contest and for myself. That was the first year the fruits of the X Division would be reaped. After three successful and very popular showings in the “extreme” division, 3A, 4A, and 5A would finally be recognized as independent divisions, each awarding a new World YoYo Champion.
That would set the general format of the World YoYo Contest to this date. Another big change came in 2007, when compulsory tricks were replaced by one-minute freestyles, both in order to better evaluate the players as freestyle performers and to save the judges from the tedious job of watching the same tricks for hours. As 2013 has shown us, however, the system does not scale too well, and some adjustments are being worked on for the next editions of the contest in order to prevent the day-long preliminaries torture for the judges.
An interesting tidbit that took place in Orlando was the Combined Division. Held from 2006 to 2009, the division’s goal was to find out which player was the most proficient in all divisions. As the results clearly show, Shinji Saito was clearly better than everyone else — in addition to being nearly unbeatable in 2A — taking the award in all four instances of that division. The Combined Division was also the first to offer cash prizes at the World YoYo Contest.
The experiments and improvements made to the contest in Orlando set a solid foundation upon which the World YoYo Contest can build and grow. Worlds is now mature enough to take new steps, and advance further into a bigger and brighter future.
The 2013 edition was in some ways a fitting first step into that future. This was the biggest diversity ever among the top places in all divisions, with Hungary (János Karancz), Singapore (Christopher Chia), Mexico (Luis Enrique), Taiwan (Tuan Chih-Min and Who Theather), and of course Japan and United States all represented among the top three in different divisions, a sign of a healthy, growing, and competitive scene. The perfect scenario for the World YoYo Contest to set sail.
Next year, Worlds will be held in Prague, Czech Republic — the first edition under the management of the newly-formed International YoYo Federation — marking its first departure from the United States since the the first edition of its modern freestyle format in 1992.
Between doubt and excitement, the consensus is that the World YoYo Contest will never be the same. That’s probably right, and that’s also a good thing. The 2013 World YoYo Contest was not the same as the first contest in Orlando, it’s better in all aspects, much was learned, and all the experience from all these years will be carried on to Prague, then to Tokyo in 2015, and all Worlds editions to come.
The Orlando era will always be remembered as the time when we discovered what we wanted in a yoyo contest, when we figure out how to make it happen, and worked to make it happen. And none of it would have happened without the yearly efforts of one man, who turned the contest’s uncertain future into a solid present, and bright future.
Thank you, Greg Cohen.
Thank you, Orlando.