The Winter Olympics: a judge’s story

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This weekend, GB’s own Gaz Vogan will start his job judging the snowboard freestyle events at the 2022 Winter Games. He is the only Brit selected for the 10-man judging panel. He has written this story for PlanetSKI about the life and work of a judge. First part: being a judge. NEW

The 2022 Winter Olympics will see the best snowboarding of all time at an Olympic Games. No doubt about that.

The level of riding is at an all time high in all three disciplines: Slopestyle, Big Air and Halfpipe.

What you’ll see from the likes of Ayumu Hirano and Scotty James, among others, will be off the charts.

It’s a shame there aren’t many viewers as it looks like it’s definitely going to be a crazy show!

I will cover how we judge freestyle events in part two, and I must say that the principles are the same for judging snowboarding and freestyle skiing.

The atmosphere here in Beijing is quite incredible: the atmosphere of the athletes and coaches is certainly getting everyone excited about the Games.

It is a strange situation. We live in a very tight closed-loop bubble, which is very strict.

We have to be bussed between locations and are not allowed to walk anywhere.

I go out to every training day. It’s what we do as judges to know what to expect from the athletes’ races.

Snowboard training at Slopestyle in Beijing 2022 – photo © Gaz Vogan

But, first things first.

How did I end up judging snowboarding in the biggest winter sports on the planet and what has the preparation for these Games been like?

I started judging in 2015 and was quickly selected to judge at the FIS World Cup tour in 2018.

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Since then, I have spent the winters traveling between competitions to assess the various tricks and runs that the best snowboarders in the world have been throwing.

Judges at a World Cup – photo © Gaz Vogan

Traveling the world just to watch and judge the best snowboarders in the world is an incredible experience, and it still amazes me that this is what I can do, especially when opportunities like the Olympics open up.

I seem to spend an impossible amount of time in airports and hotel rooms, and more recently, getting tested for Covid.

We go through some pretty strict testing before the World Cups to make sure we’re safe to enter the bubble of competition, and then we get tested every other day.

At the Olympics it has been a whole new level.

We had to take the test twice before boarding our flight, then again at the Beijing airport and we will do a PCR test every day to stay in our tight bubble.

Unfortunately, we get paid terribly, which is discouraging when we’re under a lot of pressure, particularly in competitions like the Olympics.

It means that we all need a second or third job to have some kind of financial stability.

Some of the judges have full time jobs and may only take 2-3 weeks off a year to travel and judge.

I am one of the few judges who commits to a full World Cup season and I spend 12-13 weeks of each winter on the road, which creates a lot of stress in the summer when there are no competitions.

Gaz at the Laax Open in Switzerland – photo © Gaz Vogan

I have been amazed at how exhausting it is to be on the road away from friends and family, often for 3-4 weeks at a time.

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In the build up to the Olympics, I spent a few weeks hibernating and avoiding seeing anyone, just avoiding testing positive for Covid.

My test at Beijing airport when I landed here was my 52North Dakota PCR test. I’m surprised that 51 of them were all negative (I had a false positive on Mammoth a few weeks ago).

But those are the only “downsides” to being a snowboard judge.

I am incredibly grateful that I was able to travel in the 2020-21 season at the height of the pandemic when everyone else was in lockdown.

I am in a very fortunate position where I can spend 3 or 4 months visiting beautiful places with a large group of friends and making an impact in the sport that I have loved since I was 13 years old.

Downtime © Gaz Vogan

Preparation for the Olympics officially began in Saas Fee in Switzerland in the fall, when many of the athletes were in training camps on the glacier.

Suddenly we start to see this big rush of new tricks, like triples in the half pipe! That’s where the hips go three times over the rider’s head inside the trick.

This really set the tone for the season, and the level of excitement on the World Cup Tour has been steadily building as we got closer to the Games.

The level of communication between judges and coaches and athletes has also increased a lot.

We always try to communicate as much as we can with the coaches to be on the same page as them. But this season the coaches have been very analytical with our scores, to help them plan their training, and eventually their athletes’ careers, ahead of the Olympics.

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In the last few competitions of the season we have seen some really progressive snowboarding and riders have started to reveal some of the tricks they have been keeping ‘secret’ during the season.

The Laax Open Halfpipe Final was an incredible spectacle, and the first time since the last Olympics that we have seen Ayumu Hirano, Scotty James, Shaun White and Yuto Totsuka compete against each other.

You could feel the buzz in the air before the finals, and it did not disappoint.

The last World Cup Big Air of the season was in Steamboat, Colorado, before Christmas, and the level of difficulty was absolutely incredible.

Now I am in Beijing and ready for the competition to start.

Ready for action at Beijing 2022 – photo © Gaz Vogan

The first action is the Snowboard Slopestyle on Saturday 5theSunday 6the and monday 7the February, beginning with the women’s qualifying races on Saturday and ending with the men’s final on Monday.

In part two, I’ll explain what the judges will be looking for and how we grade the races in Slopestyle, Big Air and Halfpipe.

Our decisions will determine who your next Winter Olympic champions will be and who will join them on the podium.

If you want to know more about the behind-the-scenes stories of the competitions, go to gazvogan.com where I started posting various blog articles about my travels. On Instagram (@gazvogan) I’ll be posting a lot of content from the training days and the entire Olympic experience, so definitely check it out. If you want to know more, send me a DM on Instagram!

PlanetSKI explores the passage… ›

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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