"You Be The Judge"—A Discussion with Olympic Snowboarding Head Judge Iztok Sumatic

  |   Stan Leveille

By Stan Leveille

By now if you haven’t seen the litany of memes crowding the internet surrounding what might just be the most controversial judging call since Shaun White’s perfect 100, Canada’s Max Parrot was awarded gold in Olympic slopestyle despite a missed grab on a switch frontside 1620 performed on the first jump of the course. This fact, of course, was evident upon a slow motion replay of the clip, which played immediately following his run–the same time that the judges were sending in their scores.

While many viewers were quick to pick up the pitchfork and call for the judges heads (hell, I might have been there with them) I started to realize the next day, after the several beers I had consumed during the final had left my system and I was able to think clearly, that surely there must have been an explanation for this mishap. It was at that point that I was able to get in contact with one of the judges, Julien Haricot, or as he is known more universally, L’Arrogs.



The judges panel consisted of Philippe Pilon (CAN), Carter Smith (CAN), Gaz Vogan (GBR), Adam Begg (AUS), Julien Haricot (FRA), Markus Betschart (SUI), Frederick Westman (SWE). Jonas Brewer (USA), Ryo Hashimoto (JPN) and head judge Iztok Sumatic (SLO). I got on the phone with Iztok and L’Arrogs yesterday to basically ask, “So, what the fuck happened out there?”

Iztok started with the basics. “There were five judges and myself involved in evaluating Parrot’s cab 16, we are all experienced judges. We are not the people who would be down with a knee grab. That’s the first thing. The second thing is...all of us saw the video feed that we were given and that was the angle where, later analysis of course would show us that Max grabs the board for a split second there, but from our angle it seemed like he was grabbing the whole time. And that was it. I spoke with a couple of coaches, they had the same feed as us and when they saw the run they were like, ”Holy fuck, that was a killer run,” which it still was when we saw all the other stuff that Max put down. We also need to put the score in immediately. It’s live scoring. We have to make split decisions. That was the outcome.”

L’Arrogs added that the pressure being applied by the broadcast team was also a part of the debacle. “We have big challenges with timing because of live TV. Whatever happens it’s up to us to get judging to keep it within live TV. We can get a replay if we have a doubt about a run, but we are limited to one, and we often use it for rails to analyze early-offs and stuff like that. In that instance, we didn’t ask for the replay because the angle didn’t lead us to believe we needed it.” 



Iztok added, “I went through Liam Griffin's Instagram story yesterday and I must say, that pretty well sums it up.”  If you don’t follow Liam, who is a cofounder of the Natural Selection tour, and long time event producer, his story said the following. 

 “LOC (Local Organizing Committee) probably fed the judges a straight program feed. No ISOS (individual cameras), no EVs (replays). This means the viewers at home have more to look at than the judges.” The text continued. “That means what the judges see on any given run is up to the whims of the TV director, who (if you’ve been paying attention) makes a lot of questionable action cuts and camera angle choices on the fly. They [the judges] don’t get to see the runs from consistent angles from one run to the next, making it nearly impossible to compare apples to apples. Without all the individual cameras to choose from, and without replays…judges can only judge what they see in the program feed, which almost never tells the whole story. But…IT is what they have to work with to make split second decisions under huge amounts of pressure.”

When I pressed as to whether snowboarding was given the type of attention it deserves from the IOC, the judges chose to decline conversation until after the games were over. Iztok did add, though, “My priority is to keep heads up and keep the confidence up to allow the judges here to help finish the job ahead of us.” 



However you want to shake it, the results from that event were a heartbreaker, and it would appear to me that even the judges agree. To me, the only real solution is large systemic change that aims to take the reins away from the various organizational entities that are manned by people who have never stood sideways a single day in their lives. The Olympic Committee, the FIS, the production companies and so forth. Snowboarding’s ever popular rhetoric surrounding the idea that we aren’t a sport, we’re a lifestyle, certainly rings louder after days like February 6th.