In an attempt to promote "efficiency and economy" in the addition of new sports to the Winter Olympics, the International Ski Federation (FIS) has confirmed it is seeking judges who can judge both freeskiing and snowboarding events at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
"The FIS and IOC (International Olympic Committee) have determined that there will be an integration of some officials' positions" in Sochi, read a recent request for Olympic judging applications sent out by FIS. The request noted that the integration was due to ski halfpipe and slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle being added to the 2014 program.
Joe Fitzgerald, the Switzerland-based freestyle skiing coordinator for FIS, said in a phone interview that it's unlikely there would be any crossover between head judges, which will be unique to each discipline. But between scoring judges and "score verifiers" (officials who make sure each score is recorded correctly), there could be some who, for example, work ski slopestyle as well as snowboard slopestyle.
Fitzgerald emphasized that any shared judges would be "tested and qualified" to judge multiple disciplines and multiple sports. "We're looking for one or two people who can cross over between groups," he said. "Hopefully we can find them."
"It would discredit our sport and it would discredit the Olympics if this were to pass. It makes no sense at all ... It's like having a figure skating judge on our judging panel.” -- 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Scotty Lago
The prospect of having a freeskiing judge decide who wins a snowboarding gold medal, or vice versa, isn't sitting well among judges and athletes. "It would discredit our sport and it would discredit the Olympics if this were to pass," said 2010 Olympic halfpipe bronze medalist Scotty Lago. "It makes no sense at all. Gets me incredibly mad, actually. It's like having a figure skating judge on our judging panel."
"I think both the ski and snowboard industries will raise hell," said Association of Freeskiing Professionals co-founder Josh Loubek, who served as head judge for the slope and pipe events at the 2011 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships. Loubek plans to apply for head-judge responsibilities in Sochi, and believes shared judges is a "ridiculous" idea.
"Both sports are progressing so rapidly it's hard to keep up in one sport, let alone two different sports," he said. "I think the Olympics should be focused on getting the absolute best judges, not saving a few hundred bucks. After all, picking the correct gold medalist can make or break the Olympics."
Per standard Olympic protocol, the Sochi Organizing Committee is covering the costs of officials, Fitzgerald said, but the IOC and FIS helped determine how many overall judges would be needed between skiing and snowboarding.
Loubek wasn't alone in sharing his point of view. Snowboarding judge Tom Zikas, who has been the head judge at Winter X and the Winter Dew Tour, in addition to working FIS World Cups, won't be applying to judge in Sochi. But he said of the potential crossover system: "There's no reason, with how far skiing's come and how far snowboarding's come, to do this. I think it would compromise the integrity of the results. I enjoy watching ski pipe and ski slope, but do I feel like I should be judging them? Definitely not. If they're trying to save a buck, it seems very unnecessary."
Canadian freeskier Kaya Turski, the early gold medal favorite in women's slopestyle, said: "I don't think it's the best idea because it takes a lot to know both sports, and sometimes things look a lot easier than they actually are."
To wit, Loubek explained that when crossover panels have been used at lower-level events in the past, snowboarding judges deferred to the freeskiing judges during the ski competitions, and vice versa during the snowboarding competitions.
In response to those concerns, Fitzgerald reiterated: "The only way this whole side of skiing and snowboarding can build itself up really fast, is by looking for efficiencies and economy. [Using crossover judges] is sending out a message that this is the efficiency and the economy that we're looking for, but not at the risk of having someone at the highest level who's not qualified.
Both sports are progressing so rapidly it's hard to keep up in one sport, let alone two different sports.” -- Freeski head judge Josh Loubek
"Again, this is 18 months away, and what we are speaking of here is identifying a larger group of people that are prequalified, then running them through some extra educational training and different competitions to try to buff up their skills. Then selecting out of that group people that can do stuff."
Fitzgerald said the crossover judging system worked at the 2010 FIS Junior World Championships in New Zealand, which helped prove to the IOC that the additional sports could be added to the Olympic program in an "efficient manner."
"At the time we were saying, 'Look, we can do this,' and the IOC was going, 'Well, that's pretty efficient and economical,'" Fitzgerald said. "So we jumped through all the hoops to get these sports in the Olympic Games, and you should live by your PowerPoint presentation."