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FMX Judging Grows Up

As a young sport, FMX is bound to encounter growing pains and the way contests are judged is one of those things that is sure to evolve and progress with time. Of course there will never be a case where every competitor is 100% satisfied with their score, getting as close as possible to that outcome is the goal. For 2010, the Red Bull X-Fighters crew has made some big and public changes to their judging system for the first stop in Mexico City, which took place on April 16th. With all types of craziness going down in Mexico due to the weather, I finally got the chance to talk with Head Judge, Regis Harrington, about the new changes after he had spent a bit of time at home to digest everything.

ESPN.com: So Regis. Evidently there are big changes in the world of judging at Red Bull X-Fighters; can you speak on them?
Regis Harrington: Yeah, the word of the year is "accountability" and we have worked really hard to look at all the different categories on which the riders are judged and break them down, then help the riders further the sport.

You have already done one event. What was the reaction so far?
Personally, though it's always a work in process. It was the first time that we had implemented the system and we got good feedback from the riders. A couple of riders that had questions, I was able to sit down with them and show them exactly why they were scored in each situation. It seemed to be met well with everybody that was a part of it.

So what other fundamental differences are there from last year to this year?
Well this year there are actually five judges plus myself as a Head Judge. In years past there were five judges, but one of the judges was the Head Judge. For me, sitting behind the screens and actually watching the scores come across my scoring panel as they are being done, I can get a feel for where the competition is for each individual judge. It's a lot easier for me to explain afterwards, or even during the event -- what exactly is going on. From a judging standpoint it is one of the major pluses and major differences.

This year we have barriers up between the judges so there's no chitchatting -- we're trying to get away from any swaying of an opinion.

-- Regis Harrington

It's about letting these riders know where they need to improve from qualifying and the beginning of the night, all of the way through the head-to-head competitions. We can let them know where a specific rider was beating them and narrow it down to what they need to include in their run to gain the points to advance in their next run.

So now that you are not sitting in the line with the other guys, what is your role as the Head Judge?
My role is a lot more numbers-driven I guess [laughs]. I sit in the back and I am the go-to contact for any single judge. This year we have barriers up between the judges so there's no chitchatting -- we're trying to get away from any swaying of an opinion. If the judges have any questions about what they have seen out on course, they contact me on the headphones and I can inform them individually of the answer. If I see something on the course that I think none of them saw, then I can also notify all of them at once.

Do the same judges go to each stop?
No. This year we are going to be switching out the judges. We've got a great judging panel and we tried to involve every part of the world this year and try not to have any bias. We have nine judges that have been through the training and we will be swapping and rotating all of the judges throughout the year. That brings me to another point that we changed that's behind the scenes: Each judge will be picked randomly -- random drawings from a hat, in front of the riders, for which criteria they will be judging that event.

You said that the judges have all been through "training." What kind of training do you do with these guys?
Well, we have tried unsuccessfully in the past, with different organizations, to try and get judges together to talk about things. For the first time ever before the series, Red Bull actually had us all come down to LA and we did a seminar with Dr. Andy Walshe (Red Bull's Director of Performance.) All of the X-Fighters judges, invited riders and agents went over everything from the very beginning of the judging process all of the way to the end to try and completely re-vamp it. Anything to do with judging, we discussed it. All of us were locked in a room for two days in an open discussion. I think we got a good head start on it.

Do you have an ongoing training program?
Every week before the event we have a judges briefing and then every time the riders are scored, the judges do not leave the scoring booth until we have a judges de-briefing. At that time I go over with every judge, in an open discussion, on why they scored each rider the way they did. We collectively discuss, as a group, why the scoring came out the way it did so we can fine-tune this whole process.

Judging is always a pretty difficult and subjective world. Do you think it will ever get to the place where riders are happy about the results?
In all honesty, I don't. I think we are going to get to the point where they are happy with the system and the way they are judged, but these guys are competitors and if you are a true competitor, unless you are winning every weekend, I don't think you are going to be happy. I guess what I am trying to say is that we are making leaps and bounds and huge strides in the overall quality of judging and explaining, but I don't think we will ever, ever have an event where everybody is content and happy.

These guys are competitors and if you are a true competitor, unless you are winning every weekend, I don't think you are going to be happy.

-- Regis Harrington

So what do you think makes the ideal judge?
Someone who has had a lot of experience in the industry and has seen a lot of riders. You also have to be well rounded and have an open mind. Riders and ex-riders are good, but it's a tough question to answer. You have to be open to what the riders are saying and you can't just pigeonhole yourself in your way of thinking. You have to have an open mind and be able to explain yourself really, really well.

So with the accountability all of the judges,' scores are now visible. Is that changing things with the riders that come on the panel because the guys don't want to be unpopular with their bro's?
In years past, as the Head Judge, the 4th or 5th placed rider might come up to me and ask why they were scored a certain way and I had a hard time explaining it all. The way that it happens now, as a group or individually, we can get an answer from that judge on the exact question. From what I saw in Mexico City, we had a rider that was pretty upset in qualification and I met with him for a little while and then was able to bring in the judge that he had scoring questions on. For the first time ever we shook hands and the rider said, "I know what to improve on for tonight." That made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside [laughs.]

Now it seems like you are almost sanitizing this process. Don't you miss the days when you had some crazy TV celebrity as a guest judge?
[laughs] Yeah, it was cool to have that crazy celebrity guy on the panel, but it really didn't help the competition much. They sometimes knew what they were looking at, but it often gave the local rider some bias, or they didn't know the technical aspects of what they were watching. Now every judge knows their stuff and shows every score, every time. I love the direction we are heading now, I think it's just ideal and it's been a long time coming!

Sweet. We can't wait to see the results from Egypt. Thanks Regis.
Thanks. See you at the Pyramids!