Inside the UCI: the role of BMX Freestyle Judge

To get an inside view of what it’s like as a UCI Judge in our smallest-wheeled discipline, we spoke to UCI BMX Freestyle Consultant Bart de Jong about what the role demands. De Jong, from Helmond in the Netherlands, has seen a lot of development in BMX worldwide during his time in the sport since 1979...

As it’s a relatively new discipline to the UCI, have a lot of new judges been trained up?

Bart de Jong: Actually, not that many. For five years in a row we have come together to talk about the developments in the sport and judging in general. We see what can be improved, do some video judging and discuss the results, just to get the people on the same page so riders can expect consistent judging at the UCI events. This becomes difficult with 69 UCI events on the calendar (2019) where local judges often end up on the judging table. For the past two years we have opened up the UCI judging seminar to National Federation judges so they can pass on the judging knowledge in their country when they have a C1 event or National Championship on the UCI calendar.

The past two years we have also had the help of a BMX Secretary with registration, the event schedule and results. Other than that, a lot of the tasks have landed on my lap.

What officials do what at a BMX Freestyle competition?

BdJ: The judges judge the competition, the secretary handles registration, sheets and results while the Technical Delegate deals with the state of the park, checks in with the medical crew, liaises with the organiser regarding safety, the schedule and TV, and deals with any weather situations.

How many officials and judges are necessary at, say, a UCI World Cup or UCI World Championships?

BdJ: Five judges per discipline plus a head judge would be ideal. We don’t always have that in each discipline at every event but we’re getting there. Someone handling the clock, one person who does registration, Technical Delegate... a decent crew can be around 14 at the UCI World Championships.

Is it possible to describe a ‘typical competition day’ behind the scenes?

BdJ: You’ll be the first to leave the hotel and the last to come back. It’s a puzzle every time and every piece is important. If a piece of the puzzle is missing, you’ll have to find a new one.

The course needs to be in good condition; the medical crew – including a doctor and ambulance – need to be present; athletes need to know when they are expected to ride, and the media needs to know their place. Coaches want answers, judges need their lunch, the spotter should be in place when the contest starts, the clock must work, the announcer needs batteries for the microphone, the DJs should have everything they need to play their songs, communication needs to be set up, etc...

It’s a full day of micro-managing, hoping it won’t rain because then you have to do all the above once again.

What qualities are needed to work at a BMX Freestyle event?

BdJ: I praise experience. I praise flexibility. And I praise common sense. We have a great team at the events which in the end, is what you need to make things work.

Do they need to have been athletes themselves?

BdJ: It depends what role they’re in but yes, for sure, it’s always a plus and almost necessary to have BMX and event experience. You cannot judge if you don’t ride or haven’t ridden before. Understanding BMX is key.

Are these Judges qualified to work at both Freestyle Park and Flatland competitions?

BdJ: Park judges and Flatland judges are a different crew: it’s really too specialised to have one crew also judge the other discipline. I’d say Flatland is too different for Park judges to judge, and while most Park judges could also sit on the judging table of a Dirt, Mini-ramp, Vert or Street contest, but could not be expected to judge Flatland.

As an ever-growing discipline, are there enough judges?

BdJ: We could use more to handle the BMX Freestyle events at National level and maybe even Continental level so an organiser doesn’t need to fly in a team of qualified UCI judges to handle the job. Having one UCI judge in the panel would already be good as they can explain to the others how judging works at UCI events.

As the sport grows, we’ll need more of everything. We grew from five events in 2016 and 2017, to 24 events in 2018, then jumped to 69 UCI BMX Freestyle events in 2019.

Do most convert from another discipline or do they train solely as a BMX Freestyle Commissaire?

BdJ: The people who work at the UCI events all have experience that they gained before 2016, mainly in the roles of a judge. It is impossible to judge a BMX Freestyle event if you do not come from BMX Freestyle. Having a decent relationship with the athletes helps to understand what they need so you can do your best to accommodate them. Also here, having BMX Freestyle knowledge is key. Personally, I could never work in road, track or cyclo-cross because I don’t fully understand these disciplines.

Do you have a particularly memorable moment working at a BMX Freestyle event?

BdJ: The 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as the 2019 World Urban Games in Budapest, Hungary, went really well! I love it when a plan comes together.

What is so good about doing this job?

BdJ: Giving the riders what’s needed as much as possible, which is not always easy. Trying to keep the BMX Freestyle spirit alive and make improvements where we can. Seeing all the riders and their staff in locations all over the world. Getting to see new tricks being done first-hand. Seeing the women riders in Park improve a lot from event to event. Taking BMX Freestyle to places we thought it would never get to go... I could go on and on!

And what is the most difficult thing about it?

BdJ: Dealing with weather situations. And of course, BMX Freestyle is a judged sport: only one person can win which will always disappoint other riders and their fans.