IGF president would like to use computers in judging
STUTTGART, Germany -- Gymnastics judging could be going high-tech if the head of the international federation has his way.
Three years after overhauling the sport's scoring system to provide more impartial judging, Bruno Grandi said he would like to streamline the process further by using computers, much like figure skating does. Instead of recording execution marks by hand, judges would input them into a computer during the routine.
"The computer must calculate the addition, not the judges," Grandi, president of the International Gymnastics Federation, told The Associated Press during an interview at the world championships.
Grandi overhauled the scoring system after a series of judging errors at the Athens Olympics, most notably the debacle that followed Paul Hamm's victory in the all-around. Hamm was forced to defend his gold medal all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after the FIG announced an error had been made in the bronze medalist's score.
Now, instead of a single mark based on the 10.0 system, gymnasts get two separate scores. One, the A score, represents the difficulty of the skills in the routine. The second, the B score, is for execution, how well the gymnast did the skills.
As execution judges watch routines, they note by hand the skills done and whether there were any flaws. When the routine is finished, each judge adds up his or her deductions and submits their final tally.
But Grandi said he is concerned that judges can alter their marks during the addition process to either bolster a gymnast in the standings or bump them down. But if judges would use a touch-screen computer as the routine is being done, that removes any possibility for impropriety, he said.
"During the reflection of adding, the judge becomes the political person. Not a judge. 'I exaggerate this mark, I reduce this one,"' he said. "These reflections, this one negative aspect, I want to avoid this."
Figure skating has a similar system. Using a touch-screen computer, judges enter their marks for elements of the program as they're being done.
Grandi conceded he has packed a lot of revolutionary changes into a short time. Fine-tuning needs to be done, and things like computerized judging wouldn't take effect until after the Beijing Olympics.
Before Beijing, Grandi would like a group of coaches from around the world to re-evaluate some of the difficulty marks. He also wants judges to be tougher with their execution deductions.
After the new code was introduced, many gymnasts packed their routines with one tough trick after another to pad their difficulty score. But they weren't always doing the skills well, leading to ugly routines and many that looked exactly alike.
"You look at the exercises in this competition, we have only [a few] federations that respect the choreography," Grandi said. "They're beautiful. Fantastic. They create emotion like in one theater. The others, music is one thing, exercise another thing. Without rhythm, it's not artistic gymnastics. It's acrobatic gymnastics.
"I want it to remain, in the sense, artistic gymnastics," he added. "I don't want to transform."
The United States was one of the federations Grandi singled out for praise. On floor exercise, for example, the American women actually incorporate their music into the routine. Shawn Johnson times her leaps to coincide with changes in her music, and Alicia Sacramone punctuates her music with her tumbling runs.
For many other women, though, their music is little more than background noise.
"Without fantasy, without creativity, it's not artistic gymnastics," Grandi said. "It's one disaster."
Grandi also said he is still committed to bringing all the judges under the FIG's control.
Currently, judges represent their national federations, an inherent conflict of interest. Judges can try and maintain objectivity, but their fate often has as much to do with the job they do as whether they advance the federation's interests.
"My perception is that, until the FIG really changes how judges are selected, there's going to be issues with what happens in the field of play," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "I believe they're headed in the right direction. It's like they're taking forever to wake up from a long nap, and they're having a hard time shaking the effects of" sleep medication.
Overall, Grandi said he is happy with how the new judging system is working.
"I am happy at the end because I know that the revolution of the code of points hasn't destroyed anything," he said. "Gymnastics is one fantastic spectacle, and I don't want to destroy anything."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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