How London Olympic Judging Got it Right

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Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro Olympic team and individual gold medal winners at the London Olympics. © 2012 Ken Braddick/


The panel of seven judges using half scores with three backup supervisors to catch mistakes being used at an Olympics for the first time reduced the impact of nationalistic bias and evened out big differences in point awards that put the right combinations on the medals podiums at the London summer Games.

In crunching numbers made public for the first time, Global Dressage Analytics found that if the scores of judges from the same nation as a team were removed the top five nations–Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden–would have finished in the same order. However, the United States would have dropped one place to finish seventh instead of sixth while Spain woud have moved up to the sixth spot.

And if there had been a ground jury of five judges taking out the highest and lowest scores from the seven panelists in London Steffen Peters and Ravel of the United States would have placed fifth in the Grand Prix instead of sixth, moving ahead of Great Britain’s Carl Hester and Uthopia.

This was the first Olympics at which half points, a seven-member ground jury and a judges supervisory panel of three members was used after being implemented at world and continental championships two years ago. The restructuring of dressage judging was devised by an International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Task Force after the 2008 Olympics that were marked by violations of rules and procedures in management of dressage. For the presentation, click here.OlympicReview

The German and Dutch federations as well as several individuals, including Steffen Peters of San Diego, California, utilize the analyses from Global Dressage Analytics that have the benefit of all the final remarks and 20/20 hindsight.

Frank Kemperman, show director of the CHIO Aachen in Germany who was chairman of the task force and went on to become chairman of the FEI Dressage Committee, said the changes  were introduced after studying other sports for ways to solve the problems of dressage judging.

“I think it’s been a good step forward,” he said. “It looks like we will continue it. We need good quality in judging. Education is the main element in this. Some federations are now looking at introducing some of the changes we have made at the top of the sport to lower levels. That’s very important.”

Trond Asmyr, the FEI Director of Dressage, told the GDF that the failure of some judges to meet minimum requirements of education and number of competitions judged was likely to lead to a reduction at the end of this year of up to 20 per cent in the number of FEI judges.

While the number of reductions was significant, he said, the impact on the sport wwould be minimal because those to be struck off the list of qualified judges had not fulfilled the minimum requirements anyway.

The German and Dutch federations as well as several individuals, including Steffen Peters of San Diego, California, are utilzing the analyses.

Akiko Yamazaki, the owner of Ravel, after Steffen Peters rode the Contango gelding in the London Olympics Grand Prix Freestyle, the final competition for the pair. © 2012 Ken Braddick/

What caught the attention of most of the spectators was the analysis of the London Olympics. The analyses charts progress or decline of individual combinations in aspects of competition, provide a guide of the impact on selection for teams and championships as well as pinpoint the strengths of every movement.

David’s findings showed that 45 per cent  of all scores were above 70 per cent in London compared with 11 per cent at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Half points, he said, were one of most positive elements of judging in recent years.

In London, 39 per cent of all marks were half points, with 17.26 per cent pulling up scores and 18.5 per cent lowering them.

Wim Ernes, who was a judge in London but will become the Dutch dressage cach beginning Jan. 1, said of the use of half points: “I was immediately convinced of their usefulness after the test event in Aachen two years ago. Then, for the first two riders I forgot it but then I started to use them and became convinced of their usefulness.”

Now, he does not have to think any more about whether a score should be a seven or an eight, for example, because he can award 7.5 per cent.

David Hunt of Great Britain who was a member of the judges supervisory panel at London explained how the process works with the aim of supporting riders and judges. The panel cannot change an opinion, but only correct mistakes such as whether a combination performs the prescribed number of changes.

One of the three members watches the actual test being performed while the other two watch two television screens, one with all the judges individual marks and the other of the actual ride.

Unlike the seven judges making split second decisions, when a supervisory judge sees a discrepancy in the movement and a judge’s points
the supervisory judges can get an instant replay as many times as they want to double check performance of the movement and, if necessary, correct the result.

In the two days of the Grand Prix at London, 59 adjustments were made to scores while in the one day of the Grand Prix Special 28 changes were made.

Wim admitted he was corrected twice–once on a movement he was not in a position to see and the second time when he miscounted the two-tempi changes of one rider.

“I appreciate the work of the JSP,” he said, “I see it as a part of the team.”

David Hunt pointed out the instant replay really makes a difference.

The last two horses in the Grand Prix Special that was the second stage of the Nations Cup would not have been in the Special were it not for the JSP changing scores.

David Stickland said the results of the analysis of the results of using five judges in 2008 and seven in the 2012 Olympics pointed to the bigger unit providing more cohesion and better results though whether the difference was  sufficient to justify the extra cost to organizers was “tricky.”

Great Britain's Laura Behctolsheimer in tears as she completes her Grand Prix Freestyle on Mistral Hojris at the London Olympics. © 2012 Ken Braddick/

The significance of the quality of judging, half points and the JSP was highlighted by the fact that for individual medals the margin between Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris of Great Britain who placed third and thus won bronze and Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill of Germany who placed fourth was a single point out of at least 2,050 points awarded to each rider.

On the issue of score inflation, David Stickland’s analysis, prompted by an observation from Akiko Yamazaki, the owner of Ravel, said the results indicated that was not the case.

Anky van Grunsven and Salinero received almost identical score in the Grand Prix Freestyle in London to finish in sixth place as they did at the Beijing Games where they won gold–82.00 per cent in London against 82.40 per cent in the 2008 Games. The movement scores were almost the same between the two Olympics.

“It is hard to escape the conclusion,” David said, “that Salinero’s performance was essentially unchanged over this time. He performed at his 2008 gold medal level four years later in 2012!

“That has to be a very positive statement about this horse, his rider and his training.”

Anky van Grunsven and Salinero at the 2012 Olympics performing at a level judges marked as good as their 2008 Olympic gold medal performance. © 2012 Ken Braddick/