Red Gerard, the happy-go-lucky American snowboarder who famously overslept the morning he won gold in Pyeongchang, never thought he’d be the one slamming the scoring at an Olympic competition.
“I never cared about any of this, and all of a sudden, I find myself caring,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s a bummer.
“It’s just like, this has been brought to my eye over the last month-ish that we’ve been here. It’s just been hard on everyone.”
Olympic judging at snowboarding events on slopestyle, in the halfpipe and now at big air has come under fire from the boarders themselves, who say they are fed up with inconsistent and, at times, blatantly incorrect scoring with so much on the line.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Gerard said Monday. “There’s nothing they can do after they put the scores in to change it. … You’re talking about, this is life-changing for some people, you know?”
The most egregious error came at slopestyle last week, when gold medallist Max Parrot of Canada was credited with a full grab of his board on the first jump even though broadcast replays showed him holding his knee. Parrot has since acknowledged his error, which prompted Canadian teammate and bronze medallist Mark McMorris to claim that he should’ve earned gold instead. Gerard was fourth.
In the halfpipe, many thought gold medallist Ayumu Hirano of Japan was bizarrely underjudged on his second run, which included a triple cork – a trick that had never been performed as part of a complete run until then. That controversy was mostly squelched when Hirano went even bigger with the same set of tricks in Round 3 and won the contest.
Gerard said the judges erred again at qualifying for big air Monday. He complained that his switch backside 1620 was scored dramatically lower than others – he received 75.50 points on his first attempt, while McMorris earned an 81.5 for the same trick.
“It doesn’t really make complete sense,” said Gerard, who is third after qualifying in big air. “Having that six-point difference is pretty incredible.”
The judging panels at slopestyle, halfpipe and big air have been nearly identical. After the slopestyle debacle, the lead official told snowboarding website Whitelines that the judges weren’t provided with replays or shots of some of the angles that were showing up on social media after the contest.
“Yeah, I think that was somewhat a get-out-of-jail-free card,” McMorris said Monday. “Because I think there was a lot of things they could have done to maybe make that situation a little bit better.”
Still, both he and Gerard agree that snowboarding needs to provide judges access to more slow-motion replays and to ease the pressure they feel to make decisions quickly amid time constraints created by television broadcasts.
“Until we have people caring about having proper cameramen on the scene, proper feeds displayed for the judges, proper training and accountability for the judges, as well, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get proper judging,” McMorris said.
Which brings him to his chief culprit: the International Ski Federation, or FIS. The International Olympic Committee appointed the Switzerland-based group as snowboarding’s governing body when it brought the sport into the Olympics in the 1990s.
The snowboarding community has grown increasingly frustrated with their overlords in recent years. Competitors roasted FIS and the IOC after the women’s slopestyle contest in Pyeongchang four years ago went on despite dangerous wintry conditions that risked riders’ safety and led to an underwhelming show. Alpine skiing on the same mountain was postponed that day.
FIS operates snowboarding events at the Olympics, and McMorris has no faith the judging situation will improve with that organization in charge.
“We just don’t have a snowboard league,” he said. “You know, FIS doesn’t take care of us as much as they maybe should. … They’re not caring about the snowboarding.”
FIS did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
In addition to improved camerawork, McMorris is asking for a higher level of professionalism in the judging panel, lamenting that the group scoring in Beijing is paid inadequately given the Olympics’ profile.
“I don’t blame them,” he said of the judges. “They do this almost as a hobby. They’re not making tons of money being judges for these events. They have to go work in the summer and stuff, so it’s hard to expect such a professional level from them when we don’t treat them as such.”
Our Olympic team will be writing a daily newsletter to land in your inbox every morning during the Games. Sign up today to join us in keeping up with medals, events and other news.