Sunday, March 17, 2013

Judge Well, Lest ye be Judged

Although she was 4 years older than me, my cousin Jennifer and I grew up doing just about everything together. When I was 11, I remember forcing her to watch 2004 Olympic Event Finals again and again with me. We always ended up laughing hysterically at Cheng Fei's floor choreography, making fun of Svetlana Khorkina's cheek bones and cringing during Allana Slater's beam fall. While we both had fun, I was undoubtedly way more interested in the sport than she was. When the scoring system changed, I attempted to explain the changes to her and was shocked by how she responded.

"Well, does it really matter?" she asked me. "Like, obviously they're not going to win if they fall or whatever, but the judges really can just give them whatever score they want, right?"

As a moody tween and an avid gymnastics fan, I was outraged that Jennifer just didn't understand the ins and outs of our complex sport. I grew older and I realized that this is quite a popular view amongst the general public. You may remember this summer, when Yahoo! tried to rank the difficulty of each Olympic Event, the columnist claimed that gymnastics was not a sport and asked "how tough can it be to ... wink at some French judges?"

We, as fans, are outraged by the ridiculous notion that judges just arbitrarily "choose" who wins. But on some level, could this supposed misconception be correct? Clearly, there's a code of points in place which judges are supposed to follow. But what happens when they choose not to?

Kim Raff
On Saturday night, the University of Utah Red Rocks faced off against the Florida Gators in a meet that will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. The Utes beat their season high by nearly 8 tenths. Judges scored 7 individual 10s, several of which included hops on landings. Georgia Dabritz nearly fell off of the beam and received a 9.8. "Home cooking" is always abundant in the NCAA. But, there's a difference between giving someone's slightly bent knees the benefit of the doubt and giving gymnasts who have significant errors a perfect score.

While the sport is, and will always be, somewhat subjective, there are rules. And as snarky as I was on twitter about the scoring at this meet, it's important to recognize that when judges make the choice to disregard the rules, they make a mockery of the sport. You can sugarcoat it in any way that you want, but the bottom line is : awarding gymnasts scores that they did not earn is cheating. The sport doesn't just lose fans when its judges so blatantly cheat, it loses the public's respect. And frankly, with age falsifications, public abuse scandals and the typical glitter and glam involved in the sport, gymnastics can't afford to lose any more respect.

Ravell Call
In my mind, the most imperative question to ask is : what can we do to change this? It seems to me that this is a unique problem in NCAA that we don't see consistently in the JO, Elite or International Elite programs. The NCAA actually does a fairly good job of making sure that judges work a maximum of 2 home meets and 2 away meets per school, per season. The biggest flaw that I see is within the code. Judges can score .2 higher or lower in than their fellow judge when scoring above 9.6 and still have their scores "in range". This means that it is acceptable by the code for one judge can award a 9.8 and another a 10 for the same routine. In a competition where all 12 competitors are regularly fewer than 2 or 3 tenths apart, this should not be acceptable. I wish that the NCAA Code would change to become more like the elite code and narrow the acceptable range. To expect scores above 9.6 to only be .1 apart seems reasonable to me. If this range is not met, NCAA judges should be forced to reevaluate.

Something has to change. Utah's scoring was an embarrassment. I encourage you to watch routines, particularly Tory's Vault and Bars and Georgia's Beam and ask yourself, "Did judges award scores based on how they TRULY thought the gymnasts performed, or did they disregard the rules to gain approval from 16,000 fans?" I know what I think.


  1. My solution is that the scoring should change- like elite scoring. I bet if her difficulty was a 6.0 her score would not have been a 16.00. I was so disgusted last night. Things need to change next season.

    1. I'm inclined to agree. Its time for a change.

  2. This is part of the reason I just can't get into NCAA. I'm not from the US so I don't really know much about college sport in general but the judging just seems so ridiculous that it's boring to watch? I don't know. I definitely think they should change it to elite scoring. Do they only have one judge per event in NCAA? That seems to be the case in the competitions I've seen.

  3. publish the specific deductions. I am fine with judges missing something that shows up on video (or even the converse), but not with general impressionism. Sunshine will drive better judging and be interesting to the fans and gymnasts.

  4. Theoretically if one judge came up with a 9.8 and the other one had a 10.0, they should conference about it. There shouldn't be that big of a discrepancy between a perfect score and a 9.8, even though the scores are within range. Judges are also required to follow a code of ethics and if they don't, they could get trouble with NAWGJ or at the very least, be viewed by other judges as unprofessional, both of which are situations a judge should not want find himself or herself in. I'm not saying that their scoring wasn't ridiculous, because it was, but at the same time, as a judge, I feel like people throw judges under the bus and criticize the scoring when the outcome of the meet is not what they wanted. That is the problem with gymnastics being a subjective sport. It's easy to call things unfair when other human beings, capable of making mistakes, determine the outcome. I don't think a lot of people realize what it takes to be a level 10+ judge. Those judges at the Utah meet had to be at minimum certified level 10 judges, which means (in theory) that they had been judging a bare minimum of 3 years (but most likely had several more years experience than that), passed their written and practical tests, and practice judged two meets before judging on their own. So it's not that they didn't know what they were doing. To be honest, I don't know why the scores were so inflated, and it's certainly not fair to the gymnasts and can't be good for judging credentials and reputations.

    Sorry for the ramble, I just always feel the need to "defend" judges. Even though I agree that something was really off with the scoring of that meet.

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  6. Although the judges may or may not have awarded scores correctly the talent of gymnasts will forever be respected for their hard work, dedication and great performances

  7. Some gymnastics (most) are stunning with such talent. I know I respect their hard work as Lindsay said.

  8. I agree, judges are fallible too. Nice blog, great inspiration. I will return and use it as material for my own fitness writing at

    Cheers, Eric

  9. yes exercise is batter for known to batter form

  10. Grate gymnastics are stunning with such talent. I know I respect their hard work as Lindsay said. thanks for add this information.
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  11. Gymnastics is such a tough sport and regardless of how the judges are, takes some serious talent.

  12. We just moved to the area and my daughter wants to get into a great Gymnastic Class in Johnson City TN. Is there an instructor or school that you recommend above the others?

  13. Great read. Scoring systems are a problem everywhere. Here in Israel we had several judges give their friends higher scores and nobody could do anything about it.

    All the best.
    Gery, Personal Trainer from Israel

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  17. Thanks for the blogs! I think that gymnastics is the hardest sport. I have a lot of friends that do tumbling as well. I heard that they do classes at Browns Gymnastics a lot.

  18. Sometimes when we're in really competitive situations and we want to win really badly we start ignoring our faults which magnify the shortcoming of others. I wasn't at the competition and haven't seen any of the performances but personally it's something I've noticed that I do.

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