Rio 2016 Profile: Ireland's Women's Brevet Judge Mairead Kavanagh

2nd August 2016, 00:00a.m. | International

There are only 25 Category One women's gymnastics judges in the World. Ireland has one of them. Judge Mairead Kavanagh will join Judge Denis Donoghue in travelling to Rio this week. Both of them received their official selection by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) back in December 2015. This means that Ireland will not only have their first Irish female gymnast at an Olympics Games but we will also have our first Irish women's gymnastics judge at an Olympics also.

Mairead kindly took time from her preparations to answer a few questions on her career as a gymnastics judge.


How did you become interested in judging and the sport of Gymnastics?

I started in Mayfield Gymnastics club and then moved to the Douglas gym after about a year.  Once you hit 16 in the Douglas Gym, the Club encourages you to do your coaching and judging exams.  It’s a way to keep you involved in the sport when you give up, so this is what I did when I turned 20 and from the outset I always loved judging.


How long have you been judging for and how long have you been judging at the elite international level for?  

I’ve been judging for circa 23 years and received my first Brevet in 2001


Who can judge at the Elite Level?  

Only internationally qualified Brevet Judges.


What did you need to do in order to take the Brevet course? 

Firstly, I needed to pass all my exams in Ireland and then get selected by Gymnastics Ireland to go forward to do my Brevet.  The Brevet exam is a very tough exam which takes place every four years after each Olympics.


Is there a ranking system internationally for Judges? If so where do you sit?  

Yes, as a Brevet you start at Category 4 (if you pass the exam) and every 4 Years you have an opportunity to move up a rank, if you score high enough.  The highest rank in the World is Category 1 and I am a Category 1 Judge since December 2012.  There are circa 25/30 Category 1 WAG Judges in the World and we will all have to prequalify in Madrid later this year.


What are your judging goals? 

Judging at the Olympics will complete all my goals.  I’ve judged at every high level competition i.e. Europeans, Commonwealth Games, Youth Olympic Games, World Championships etc. etc. so the only one I’m missing is the Olympics.


What is your judging highlight to date? 

Being selected as Head Judge on Beam for the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow.  This was the first time an Irish Judge ever got a Head Judge position at a World Championships so it was a great honour, especially as this competition was the most important competition in the cycle as it was the 1st of two qualifiers for Rio.


What are your thoughts on the similarities or differences between men’s and women’s judging? 

I think the women take a lot more deductions than the Men and of course the men will tell you they are better and quicker, but sure we can let them think that!


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? 

I think it will be difficult to bring back the perfect 10 but I do think the FIG have to do something to make the scoring system easily understood by the audience.


Artistry in gymnastics: What do you want to see on the men’s floor exercise vs women’s? 

On the Men’s sides it’s all about the difficulty in the tumbles.  On the women’s side it’s all about performing for the audience and linking the difficulty with dance and jumps and turns.  I think the women’s floor exercise is a lot more entertaining for the audience than the Men’s as the Men’s can almost be “robot” like.


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? 

There aren’t huge changes planned in the new Code of Points, a no. of element value changes but overall the essence of the code will remain the same.  The execution score will become more important as there are higher deductions when an element is not done in line with the technical specifications.


How do you define artistry? And if you know that everyone has a different definition of what is artistic, how do you elevate the artistic content in a sport like gymnastics? 

If you watch Cirque de Soleil, that is what I would call Artistry and that type of performance is what the FIG are looking for.


How should gymnasts reconcile the need to perform more difficulty (the faster-higher-stronger of sport) while remaining artistic? 

I think it’s important for gymnasts and coaches to remember that it’s not all about difficulty, it’s about the routine as a whole.  Execution and Artistry are just as important as difficulty, so it’s important to get the balance right and to ensure when introducing a harder move that the gymnast is ready to perform it as part of her routine.


What factors should coaches take into account when trying to create “artistic” routines? 

The choice of music is probably the most important thing.  The music should reflect the gymnast’s personality.


What do you think of the routines we’re seeing in this cycle? 

I find Beam very boring but maybe that’s because I’ve judged it so much in the past 4 years.  It’s a little monotonous as we are seeing the same skills being performed with lots of pauses and No flow.  I think A-Bars is good and definitely much more straight forward to judge and on floor I think the artistry has improved but definitely could be better.  As for Vault…well Vault is Vault!


Do you think the FIG should be pushing for artistry and difficulty in equal measures? 

No, artistry is very very important but the gymnasts doing the more difficult skills should be rewarded for this.


Difficulty aside, what are the biggest challenges people have with artistry right now? 

Engaging with the audience and judges.


How important is musical choice in this process?

Hugely important.


What do you think can be done to make gymnastics not only less confusing for media, but more popular to the public? 

I think gymnastics is very popular with the general public as it amazes them but I think how the score is delivered is confusing.  Maybe they need to highlight the Difficult Score first and then follow it with the execution score and then give a Total Score.


In what ways has the sport of Gymnastics in Ireland progressed since London in 2012?  

Kieran’s performance in the 2012 Games lifted the sport hugely and gave gymnasts the belief that they could one day get there themselves.  Gymnastics Ireland have had a number of successful Strategic Plans which have lead us to where we are now on the brink of the National Centre opening in Dublin and under the guidance of our High Performance Manager, Sally Fillmer we have a fantastic squad structure in place which is producing very good gymnasts.  It has been a very exciting journey over the past few years topped off with Ellis qualifying for Rio but what’s even better is that the future looks so bright and the number of people wanting to get involved in the sport is at an all-time high.   

I think it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to be the best gymnast.  As long as the kid is enjoying themselves and learning the core skills of balance and strength and simply taking part then we have achieved a lot.  I think Gymnastics Ireland have recognised this and cater for every level.


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? 

When I took over as Head of Judging, all the Brevet Judges had just retired and we had a handful of judges. Now we have 4 Women’s Artistic Gymnastics International Brevets and 170+ Judges here in Ireland.  Our competitions are run very professionally and so is the judging. We have lots of judges at every competition which ensures the correct gymnasts get the medals.  But we need to continue to grow this as the number of gymnasts taking part in our competitions is increasing and we need the number of judges to increase also.


What skills do you believe are needed to be a successful brevet judge? 

You need to be diligent, study routinely and not just in the lead up to a competition, doing a few routines on each apparatus on your laptop each week will keep your eye and make sure you don’t go stale. 


Would you have any advice for somebody looking to get into judging? 

Study hard and judge at every competition you can.  Judging is all about practice and confidence in your own ability.  When you are practicing you should try to judge in pairs / in a group as it helps you spot your mistakes and improve.  And don’t ever be afraid to ask a question as it’s the only way you will learn.


Thank you to Mairead for taking time to answer our questions and the very best of luck to her in Rio.


To find out more about what it takes to become a Brevet Judge, listen to Mairead’s interview on the Off The Bench Podcast with Cliona Foley on Newstalk FM.

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