Rio 2016 Profile: Ireland's Men's Brevet Judge Denis Donoghue

1st August 2016, 00:00a.m. | International

The Rio 2016 Olympics will be a historic one for the sport of Gymnastics in Ireland. We will have two gymnasts competing, one of whom will be the first Irish female gymnast to compete at an Olympics, the other will become the first double Olympian Irish gymnast.
There is history being made beyond the gymnasts competing too. Ireland have two Brevet level gymnastics judges, Denis Donoghue, from Portlaoise Gymnastics Club and Mairead Kavanagh from Douglas Gymnastics Club. Both have been invited to judge at the Rio 2016 Olympics and we caught up with them as they prepare for the competition start this week.
Here we speak to the experienced Denis Donoghue who has been invited to judge at his second Olympics, having previously judged at the London Olympics in 2012.
How did you become interested in judging and the sport of Gymnastics?
I suppose it’s just a natural progression when you're involved with gymnastics. I was coaching in Portlaoise and the club organised a club judging course. Actually Brendan Cantwell who is the father of Joanne Cantwell RTE sports commentator gave me my first qualification.
How long have you been judging for and how long have you been judging at the elite international level for?
Oh God. I've been judging for approximately 32 years. I qualified as an International judge at 24 .So I’ve been an International judge for roughly 25 years.
Who can judge at the Elite Level?
Only International judges or Brevet judges as we are called can judge international competitions.
What did you need to do in order to take the Brevet course?
You must be recommended by your association.
Is there a ranking system internationally for Judges? If so where do you sit?
There's no real ranking system yet but there are 4 judging catagories. Cat 1 – 4.  I'm a Cat 2.
What are your judging goals?
I would like to make my Cat 1 in the next cycle. Each cycle lasts 4 years.
What is your judging highlight to date?
I've 2 highlights.
My first major International was The World Student Games in Buffalo New York in 1993. Barry McDonald was competing and his father, the late and great Shay was Chef De Mission. Shay and myself spent the two weeks going around together.. He was like a father figure. He was brilliant, I had a wonderful time and to make things better Barry qualified for Comp 2, All Around Finals. It was the first time an Irish gymnast did so in a major International competition.
2nd one would be the London 2012 Olympics. I'd just finished judging the Parallel Bars in the Team Finals and it had gone well. The Russians were on High Bar, GB on Floor and Japan on Pommels. These 3 teams were to decide the medals. I could sit back relax and look at the last few gymnasts compete from the middle of the floor arena. Tthe crowd was amazing, the noise levels, the excitement. It was spine tingling stuff. I'll never forget those last few routines.
What are your thoughts on the similarities or differences between men’s and women’s judging?
We’re better…. sorry Mairead… ha ha.
There has been a recent focus on bringing back the 10.0 and making the Execution score more visible during competitions. How do you feel this impacts the sport for judges, coaches, gymnasts & spectators?
Yeah it's true. FIG are looking at this closely trying to improve things. The 10 is still there but only for exercise presentation. Coaches, gymnasts and judges in my opinion, prefer the system we have now (D score plus Execution score) but keeping the public happy can be the problem.
Artistry in gymnastics: What do you want to see on the men’s floor exercise vs women’s.
Men could do with more artistry. The main thing I like about Kieran Behan's routine, it flows. It's nice to look at as it has that artistry element. Some men's routines are just too much like tumbling. 

Going into the next cycle towards Tokyo 2020, what do you think we can look forward to in terms of the rollout of the new Code of Points? 
To be honest I think most coaches judges and gymnasts are waiting to get these games over before the new code is forensically examined. There will be a lot of draft copies between now and when the comittees are finally happy with the new code.
How should gymnasts balance the need to perform more difficulty (the faster-higher-stronger of sport) while remaining artistic?
Gymnasts must only perform routines within their ability. Safety should never be comprised in the pursuit of more difficult elements. Men aren’t judged on artistry like the women, but the safety of the gymnast is by far the main concern for FIG for all gymnasts trying to achieve a routine with maximum difficulty.
What do you think of the routines we’re seeing in this cycle?
From the mens point of view it is probable that some routines in the Floor final in Rio won’t even have a back handspring or back flip. I think this is wrong and a little ugly. Too many twisting elements on the Floor are allowed and not enough pure elements. I think flairs on Pommels should be compulsory. It would make pommels look so much more graceful. After that I believe Rings, Vault , Parallel Bars and High Bar are in a good place. I can see little change happening here.
Do you think the FIG should be pushing for artistry and difficulty in equal measures?
No. Introducing some artistry in mens floor will be as far as it goes. Years ago when I started judging , we had C. O. V, (Courage. Originality. Virtuosity). But it was too subjective, too open to peoples interpretation, so it was eliminated from mens gymnastics in the 1996 code. Artistry is a bit like this, in that it is open to people's interpretation so I cannot see the MTC giving it too much recognition. Allowing aspects of gymnastics that are subjective leaves it open to possible cheating in International gymnastics. You’re talking about situations where .10 pts can be the difference between 1st and 3rd.  For that reason I cannot see artistry playing any great part in mens gymnastics.
What do you think can be done to make gymnastics not only less confusing for media, but more popular to the public?
I was at round table talks in Germany last year organised by UEG and this same question came up. After much conversation by everybody there, we still didn’t have an answer. What people did agree on was the fact that people recognise the perfect 10. The difficulty score confuses people somewhat. One of the things suggested was that the difficulty score would be flashed first, separately. Imagine a scenario in finals for example where after flashing the difficulty score, everyone could know what a score was required to the take the lead. Everyone would then be waiting on the execution score to be flashed ie out of 10.00pts. That is something that everyone understands. It could make a competition very exciting. UEG and FIG are so aware of this problem in gymnastics at the moment. UEG (the European body of gymnastics) in the past have lead the way in innovation and progressiveness in artistic gymnasts and I believe if a solution is to be found here that it will come from them.
In what ways has the sport of Gymnastics in Ireland progressed since London in 2012?
Oh just look at the numbers that are now doing gymnastics in Ireland. Kieran Behan has a lot to answer for! The work that has gone in to our set up through Ciaran Gallagher and his team at HQ. Sally Filmer our High Performance Manager and her tireless work too. It's just going from strength to strength. I’ve been involved in gymnastics in Ireland for so so long now and we’ve gone from been an amateur run organisation to a professionally run organisation. I say this in absolutely no disrespect to the people who ran the organisation back then. It was a different time. The organisation was run by mostly volunteers. People who worked in their respective jobs during the day and at the same time ran our organisation. These were people who dedicated so much of their lives to gymnastics in Ireland and who’s hard work set the foundation for what we have today. We are still so much in our infanc though. I see us now where GB were when I started judging. Look at what they’re achieving now. I’ve no doubt that we can do the same but it is a slow slow process and we have to be patient and set realistic goals.  The opening of our new training centre in Blanchardstown this year is a huge step forward and a huge testament to the hard work of Gymnastics Ireland.
It’s great for Ireland to have two Brevet judges selected for Rio 2016. How has the level of judging in Ireland developed since you first began judging?
It will be great to have Mairead there. She has put in so much work over the last 4 years. Firstly achieving her cat 1 and then getting D1 on beam at the last World Championships.
The judging now compared to when I started is like chalk and cheese. When I started judging, there were A, B and C elements.. now there are A, B, C, D, E, F, G elements. It's so much more difficult now. Judges have to be so much more prepared. We still have problems with numbers like we did when I started but I am confident this will change with so many more people becoming involved in men's gymnastics.
What skills do you believe are needed to be a successful brevet judge?
It's as simple as just putting in the hours. Mairead will tell you the same. You need to constantly practice at home, constantly read the code of points and keep up to date with all newsletters. It's hard work but if you want to remain at the top you've gotta put the work in. I have the Code of Points beside me as much as I can and am constantly practicing judging on the laptop at home. There’s no other way for us.
Would you have any advice for somebody looking to get into judging?
I would say to get involved with coaching first. Spend time in the gym getting to know the dynamics of gymnastics. Study the routines so you get to know what the judges are looking for and try to recognise this in your coaching.
Thanks to Denis for takijng the time to speak with us ahead of his trip and we wish both him and Mairead all the best ahead of their work in Rio.

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