Sunday, February 22, 2015

Vail Judging Controversy

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

It seems that every major championship these days has a judging controversy. At the Olympics Max Franz was stripped of his artistry gold medal due to irregularities with the judging (see this story). Now it looks like there was a new judging scandal in Vail. Austrian legend Benjamin Raich and Forerunner Number Three tied for the gold medal in artistry. But many felt that Forerunner Number Three should have won gold outright and Raich should have earned silver. Our intrepid research team investigated the judging and one of our researchers talked to Bob, our favorite contact at the FIS. Let's find out what he has to say.

BB: Nice to see you again, Bob. Do you do any actual work at the FIS?
Bob: Yes. I was on the committee that investigated the Freedonian ski racing team (see this story) and I now work with artistry judges. In fact, I just graduated from the judging course and am a certified ski artistry judge.
BB: Congratulations! So it looks like you're the perfect person to talk to about the artistry judging in Vail. (short pause) Before we begin, tell us a little bit about Forerunner Number Three.
Bob: His true identity is Florian Szwebel and he's 18 years old. Florian is a member of the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. He hopes to earn a spot on the US ski team.
BB: If he keeps up his artistic skiing, he will be a shoo-in for a spot on the US team.  (short pause) Let's talk about the artistic impression judging in Vail.
Bob: The judging was very fair.
BB: I never implied that it was unfair. Let's take our readers step-by-step to explain how the artistry scores in Vail were figured. We'll start with the basics. There are six artistry judges, correct?
Bob: That is correct. There is also a head judge who steps in if the scores seem out of line. For example, if there is a big difference in the scores, the head judge's score will count. The head judge also has the authority to tell the others to raise or lower their scores.
BB: Where do these judges come from?
Bob: Three out of the six on the panel must be from the following countries: Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden and the USA. The other judges must be from a country that is an FIS member. The head judge can be from any country that belongs to the FIS.
BB: What was the composition of the judging panel in Vail for the men's slalom race?
Bob: The six judges for the men's slalom were from: Sweden, Norway, France, Croatia, Spain, and Canada. The head judge was Italian.
BB: I see that there were no Austrian or US judges on that panel.
Bob: Austria is banned from having judges on any artistry panel this season as part of the Max Franz decision. Judges for every race are chosen by a random draw.
BB: How is the scoring figured?
Bob: The six judges give the racer a score. The high and low scores are thrown out and the middle 4 scores are averaged. If the middle four scores are still far apart, the head judge's score gets averaged in.
BB: What is the maximum score that a racer can get for artistic impression?
Bob: Ten.
BB: Wait a minute! Benni and Florian both earned a score of 14.2. How is that possible if the maximum score is 10?
Bob: Racers can actually earn over ten points because of special bonuses for difficulty, originality, and technical merit. There are many pages in the judging code that explain all of the mandatory bonuses and deductions as well as ones that judges can take at their discretion.
BB: It sounds quite complicated.
Bob: It is. The judging course takes 6 months and you must pass the test with a score of 90 percent or better. You can't just walk in off the street and become an FIS artistry judge.
BB: You also can't walk in off the street and become a Blickbild reporter or researcher. We  have the most intrepid crew in the business. (short pause) Now that we know how the scores are figured, let's go through how Benni and Florian's scores were calculated.
Bob: I'll start with Benni. He received 9.5s across the board from the six judges.  They would have given him a 10, but he straddled. A straddle is a mandatory 0.5 point deduction.
BB: It seems that the judges were very impressed with Benni.
Bob: Of course they were! He is a legend. Benni also received 4.7 bonus points. He earned a 2-point originality bonus for the 360 degree spin move, 1.0 for staying on his feet the whole time, 1.0 for keeping his rhythm after the spin, and 0.7 for his balance and control during the spin.
BB: Now please break down Florian's score.
Bob: Florian received 10s from five out of the 6 judges. The Croatian judge gave him a 9.9, which was thrown out along with one of the 10s. Florian received the following bonuses: 2.0 in originality and technical merit bonus for skiing in his boots and executing slalom turns in boots, 1.0 for keeping his balance and control after coming out of his skis, 1.0 for his graceful arm positions while sliding down the hill in his boots, 0.5 for keeping his rhythm after losing his skis, and 0.5 for his controlled stop.
BB: Hey! That adds up to 15 points. How did he end up tying for gold with Benni? Did some of the judges fail a basic math test?
Bob: This is where the head judge stepped in.
BB: But the scores were not out of line. The high and low scores were within 0.1 point of each other. 
Bob: One of the qualifications for becoming an artistry judge is to be familiar with the FIS Big Book of Rules. There are even questions about the Big Book of Rules on the judging exam. The head judge came up to Markus Waldner, the new FIS men's race director, and asked if a forerunner could win a world championship gold medal. Herr Waldner, who is an expert on the Big Book of Rules, said that forerunners are not eligible for medals. Section 15.2 Paragraph 1 of the Big Book of Rules states that only actual racers can receive awards. However, he was willing to make an exception for Mr. Szwebel since his move was so incredible. The only thing was that as a forerunner, he was not allowed to beat one of the real racers. The head judge told the others that they had to lower their base score to 9.2 so that Florian would be tied with Benni.
BB: I see. Did the judges protest?
Bob: No, but the audience was upset and booed the score. The spectators felt that Florian should have won gold and Benni silver.
BB: When we watched the video of Benni straddling and doing his spin, the camera then showed his partner Marlies Schild with a disappointed look on her face. Why was she so disappointed about Benni getting an artistry medal?
Bob: She was disappointed about the straddle. He had a DNF in the giant slalom event and another in the slalom because of the straddle. At the time she was not sure that he would win an artistry medal.
BB: What do the athletes think of artistry medals?
Bob: They are serious about them, just like they are about the team medals. I'm sure that an athlete would prefer to win a discipline medal. But an artistry medal is just as good. When an athlete talks about his or her medal count, team and artistry medals are included.
BB: After Vail, will the FIS consider giving artistry medals to forerunners?
Bob: We will have to discuss that at our summer meeting. Florian's move was so unique, it had to be rewarded. But we want our forerunners to concentrate on doing their jobs instead of thinking up creative moves that upstage the racers. It is doubtful that forerunners will be eligible for artistry points or medals in the future.
BB: What about giving artistry awards during training? At the downhill training in Saalbach, Adrien Theaux did a Ghedina and landed a perfect spread eagle jump. The judges gave him 20 points for that move.
Bob: No. Just like the racers use training runs to get a feel for the course, the artistry judges use training runs to get used to each other and see how their scores compare with each other. Training runs don't count for World Cup points or medals. Artistry scores during training runs also don't count. It's only the races that count.
BB: That makes sense. Well Bob, it looks like we are out of time. I want to thank you for this interview. It is always good to talk to you. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview. 

The Boston Blickbild. Our motto is: Our reporters and researchers get 12 points out of 10 for being intrepid.

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