Five-ring Circus

Olympics Jerk Watch: The Snowboarding Judges Who Disrespected Ayumu Hirano

Ayumu Hirano holds up a gold Olympic medal.
Ayumu Hirano poses with his medal during the Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe medal ceremony on February 11, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images.

Olympics Jerk Watch is a long-running feature that subjectively rates the jerkiness (or lack thereof) of the biggest stars of the Summer and Winter Games.

Candidates: Olympic snowboarding judges

Known for: Issuing oddly low scores, issuing oddly high scores, angering the Todds

Why they might be jerks: On Friday morning in Beijing, Japanese snowboarder Ayumu Hirano stomped the men’s halfpipe with one of the best runs that NBC commentators Todd Richards and Todd Harris had ever seen. “Ayumu Hirano is from another planet!” yelled Harris. “That was the most difficult halfpipe run in the history of halfpipe that has ever been done,” said Richards. “It’s all about setting momentum. It’s a puzzle. Ayumu Hirano just put together one of those 15,000-piece puzzles you get at Christmas and you never get a chance to open it up because you’re too intimidated. He destroyed this halfpipe.”

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As viewers at home marveled at the destruction and at that extended puzzle metaphor, Hirano awaited the verdict from the judges—who, Richards predicted, would give him a score “that’s gonna be just … out of this world.” They certainly did, though not in the way that Richards expected. Hirano’s run got awarded a 91.75, leaving him in second place, behind Australian snowboarder Scotty James.

What sort of jerks would give such a low score to such a great run? The Todds were at a loss for words. “Explain that to me,” said Harris. “Uhhhhh, what? What? Is there a mistake?” said Richards. “How did that … wait a minute. There’s no way. There is no way! A 91.75?” And with that, NBC went to commercial, giving Richards, Harris, and all the rest of us a few minutes to process what those (potential) jerks had done.

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As winter sports fans and diehard Slate readers well know, it takes a lot to rile the Todds, who, being snowboarding announcers, are dispositionally chill. But when NBC came back from its ad break, neither Todd could suppress his anger.

“As far as I’m concerned, the judges just grenaded all their credibility,” said Richards, who at this point was so discombobulated that he forgot to express himself in puzzle analogies. “I’ve been doing this for so long. So long. I know what a good run looks like. I know the ingredients of a winning run. I know when I see the best run that’s ever been done in the halfpipe. Try to tell me where you’re deducting from this run. It’s unbelievable that this is even happening. It’s a travesty, to be completely honest with you. I am irate right now.” Way to raise the Todds’ blood pressure, you jerks!

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It would be easier to dismiss the judges’ blunder if it had been a one-off mistake. But earlier this week, in the slopestype finals, Canadian Max Parrot took gold despite missing a grab on a trick—a mistake that the panel of purported snowboarding experts failed to notice. This omission set an entirely different set of announcers and spectators into conniption fits.

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“Way overscored. … Max Parrot is 100 percent overscored there,” said the BBC’s Ed Leigh after Parrot’s run. (“Way overscored,” agreed the BBC’s Tim Warwood.) Just like the Todds on Thursday night, these guys couldn’t get the mistake out of their heads. “I mean, it’s controversial. We can’t shy away from this, Tim! There is a glaring judging error putting Max Parrot in gold!” said Leigh. Clearly, these jerky judges won’t be satisfied until and unless they put every single snowboarding announcer into an early grave.

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During the halfpipe broadcast, NBC showed a breakdown of the six individual scores that were used to calculate Hirano’s total. (The top and bottom numbers get tossed out, while the remaining four are averaged.) Those six scores came from six different judges from six different countries: Fredrik Westman of Sweden, Julien Haricot of France, Carter Smith of Canada, Jonas Brewer of the USA, Ryo Hashimoto of Japan, and Markus Betschart of Switzerland. All six of these judges were also on the panel for the slopestyle final. I’m not sure what their deal is. But I think they might be jerks.

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Why they might not be jerks: In snowboardcross, it’s easy enough to verify which athlete crosses the finish line first. In halfpipe snowboarding, excellence is subjective. That’s why there are judges—it’s a sport that relies on individual interpretation.

I watched Hirano’s epic run live. While it was obviously awesome, if I had been watching on mute I wouldn’t have immediately declared that it was that much more awesome than Scotty James’ run. To me, a casual fan and nonathlete, the tricks all look similarly impossible.

At the Olympics, given that so few of us have the expertise to parse what we’re watching, we depend on announcers to shape the narrative: to tell us what’s great and why, and to channel our outrage in the appropriate direction. The Todds, being excellent announcers, did that on Thursday night, and social media mirrored their anger and incredulity.

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The halfpipe judging panel didn’t have the Todds in their ears. Perhaps more relevant is that the Todds didn’t have access to the judges and were thus unable to explain their judging logic to those of us watching at home. The Hirano scoring saga was thus a one-sided argument. While Harris and Richards’ side was passionately and compellingly argued, there’s a whole other side that none of us got to hear. Todd Richards may have a monopoly on snowboarding-related puzzle analogies, but he’s not the only human who knows what a great run looks like.

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In the end, the judges’ potential jerkiness was mitigated by Hirano’s third run, which, per the Todds, was “even more perfect”: “the heaviest run that has ever been done in halfpipe.” (A 30,000-piece puzzle?) This time around, the judges saw what the Todds saw, scoring the run at a 96, giving Hirano the gold, and weakening the argument that they are, in fact, jerks. True jerks don’t make amends; true jerks double down on their mistakes.

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As far as the Max Parrot kerfuffle, the judges explained that, from the video angle they used, it looked like he’d grabbed his board the entire time. Speaking to Stan Leveille for an article in Slush, head judge Iztok Sumatic pointed to an Instagram post that explained that Olympic snowboarding judges don’t have a ton of camera angles to review. Judge Julien Haricot, for that matter, noted that the judges are subtly dissuaded from asking for replays so as not to slow down the live TV broadcasts. Depriving the judges of the tools they need to get their scores right and then ripping them on air? Maybe NBC and the Todds are the real jerks here!

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Jerk score: I’ll give the Beijing Games snowboarding judges 2 out of 3 points for style, because they made two broadcast teams from two countries across two events rant and rave on the air. 2 out of 3 for technical merit, because if they had scored Ayumu Hirano just a little bit lower they could have goaded Todd Richards into proclaiming their work “bogus.” 1.5 out of 3 for execution, because real jerks would have doubled down by scoring Shaun White’s final run, in which he fell, a perfect 100 just for old times’ sake. And 0 out of 1 in the category of “Were any of the judges named Todd?” 5.5 out of 10 for the Olympics snowboarding judges. Next!

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