Even if these days you only ski the hero run under the chair when you’re sure none of your friends are watching and that yellow downhill suit you’ve been keeping “just in case” makes you look more like a chubby banana than a svelte racer, there’s still hope because athletes aren’t the only ones who will be losing sleep during the Torino Olympics.
In fact, as the head judge for freestyle skiing, Kimberley, B.C.’s Gerry Benoit may be under more pressure during his Olympic sojourn than some of the competitors he’ll be judging. Although, as Benoit points out, “It’s a little different for the athletes. If they do well, it’s a career-maker, but nobody ever remembers the of? cials so it takes some pressure off.”
Still, we do tend to forget that there are other opportunities to participate in the Olympic Games, besides being an athlete. So how exactly do you become a judge at the Games? Well, for Benoit, it’s been a 26- year journey that started back in 1980 in the freestyle hotbed of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. A former competitor, Benoit started judging as a way to stay involved in the sport he loves.
Benoit worked his way up from the regional level, spending countless hours in freezing weather, watching others compete, attending the mandatory yearly clinics, analyzing video and honing his skills for the big show. Although the Olympics weren’t an initial goal, after a few years of judging regional competitions, Benoit felt he had what it takes to make it. Then in the spring of 2004 he submitted his application to FIS and was selected to head the panel in Torino.
As a result of this system, no single judge picks the winner. Judges don’t even know an athlete’s rank until all of the individual scores have been inputted and the computer has completed the mathematical calculations.
To further silence the critics who believe only sports that can be measured are “real sports,” it should be pointed out that in freestyle skiing equipment offers little or no advantage. Unlike sports such as alpine skiing and bobsleigh, where money and connections can buy a serious advantage, freestyle skiing is an equal-opportunity sport. Complete rookies and outsiders can, and have, won major events because each athlete is scored solely on performance, not how well their skis are tuned or the age of their sled.
As well, there’s no ranking in freestyle’s quali?cation rounds. All athletes start with a clean slate, and since the athletes’ start order is randomly selected, judges must award scores based on performance, rather than reserving the highest scores for top athletes.
Still, judges are only human and mistakes are made. Benoit admits to feeling the guilt of such an error more than once in the past. “You don’t know you’ve made a mistake until you’ve seen it on video after. You feel badly and you want to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.”
In order to reduce the incidence of human error and ensure judging consistency from week to week, coaches and judges have started working together. Six coaches are elected by their peers to meet with the judges at each World Cup competition. Three of the coaches sit down with the judges before each competition to discuss technique and any concerns they may have, and three meet with them after to review the event’s judging and point out any problems they have seen.
Despite even the best preparation, judges, as human beings, are fallible. Which is exactly why Benoit’s job is so important. As the head judge, he’s responsible for the results the judges produce. He can even ask (but not force) a judge to change his or her score if he feels it is inconsistent with the performance.
“As a head judge,” says Benoit, “it’s important to make the judges comfortable, take the pressure off and make sure they’re feeling good, feeling ready, so they can just write down a score quickly. If they’re con? dent in their scoring, there shouldn’t be any issues.”
So with the world watching, who does Benoit think will get more sleep the night before the Olympic ? nals in Torino—himself or the athletes? “That could be a toss-up—good thing it’s a night event. I can get in a nap. I’m going to be nervous, that’s for sure.”
Regardless of the pressure, the hours spent in the cold and giving up his holiday time, Benoit remains passionate about the sport and his role in it, and advocates others getting involved, even those who have no background in freestyle skiing. “If anyone’s interested in judging, we always need help. It seems like there are so few judges, especially at the regional level. Having more judges would sure help out the young athletes as they’re trying to develop. [In a judged sport] the athletes need scoring. Just make sure you have warm clothes.”
Judge for yourself, contact the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association: firstname.lastname@example.orgTags: Canadian Freestyle Association, Canadian Ski Association, freestyle skiing, Gerry Benoit, interview, judge, judges, Olympic Games, Olympics