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The Tough Calls of an Olympic Gymnastics Judge

LIKE the athletes he judges, Gary Alexander has reached a pinnacle by making it to the Olympics. Only 42 people in the world were selected to evaluate the gymnasts in Barcelona, and he is one of just two Americans to earn the privilege.

"It's an absolutely unbelievable honor, a dream come true, but there are a lot of factors that get you here," says the former All-American gymnast at Arizona State U.

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Mr. Alexander not only has the competitive background, he is also a two-time national gymnastics coach of the year who has served as the technical director of the gymnastics competitions at the Pan American and Goodwill Games. He has judged at two world championships, which is important to establish Olympic credentials. His officiating career spans 21 years.

"Obviously, you have to know the rules," he says, "but you also have to have established a presence, a reputation, not only in the US, but around the world."

An independent selection committee voted on a handful of finalists chosen by the national gymnastics judges association, and in April, Alexander was notified of his selection. Alexander judges the men's competition, which concludes with the individual all-around final on July 31 and the apparatus finals on Aug. 2.

The pommel horse, he says, is the hardest event to judge because of the speed of the hand changes on the pommels, the two handles on the horse.

The judges count the hand placements, because the greater the number, the greater the difficulty, which often means a higher score.

"You anticipate the kind of skill that's coming," he explains. "On the horizontal bar, for example, changes of direction and release moves are not going to be done at the bottom of the swing; it's physically impossible. They happen in only 90 degrees at the top: 45 degrees to one side and 45 to the other."

Even with these definite expectations, there are still surprises. Alexander says the gymnasts' skills always lead the rule book, causing it to be rewritten after every Olympics so that everybody doesn't converge with perfect scores of 10 at the next Games.

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