When Judging Goes Wrong: Head Judge Van Homan Discusses X Games 2019 Error

Judging is a weird thing. Everyone thinks they'd be great at it, but I can count on one hand how many people put in the overtime to get it right. BMX legend Van Homan puts in the overtime. 

Van was the head BMX judge at X Games 2019. He's also a frequent judge at FISE World stops, UCI events, Battle of Hastings, Mongoose Jams, and almost every other notable BMX event that has taken place in the past five years. He's qualified, he's honest, and he cares.

But is he perfect? Nah. No one is.

Van and his judging crew had a significant slip-up in dirt finals at X Games this past weekend. Ben Wallace stomped a 360 triple downside tailwhip over the last set in his final run. Van and his crew scored it as a 360 double downside tailwhip. This single tailwhip that went ignored represents thousands of dollars, a higher placing, and the peace of mind in securing an invitation to next year's event. 

We reached out to Van to learn how this happened, why this happened, and what's being done to rectify the error. Here's what he had to say - 

Van Homan competing at X Games 2008 / Photo: Losey

Paint a picture for us of your vantage point. Where are you judging from? Who are all of the judges? Who else is there?

We judge from a broadcast room with multiple monitors. I was very skeptical the first time we judged from monitors years ago in Austin, but I feel it typically works really well. The judges slightly differed this year - depending on which event - but the overall crew was myself, Stew Johnson, Chad Kagy, Dave Brumlow, Gary Young, and Mike “Big Island” Castillo. In addition to the judges, we have a producer in the room who is in communication with all details concerning the event. He knows how the flow and the timing of the event need to go. His main job concerning judging is letting us know how fast we need to have the scores in. Last but not least, someone is there who knows and understands the judging system well in case there is a technical issue.

You are the “head judge,” right? What exactly does that mean? 

Well again, it depends on the event and the format. Sometimes I am actually judging and other times I am only managing the numbers and approving the final scores from the five judges. To put it simply, I help avoid ties, break ties, and make sure the math truly represents the over all opinion of the five judges. 

It seemed kind of crazy that there were three major BMX events packed into one day. Did this create extra stress for the judging crew?

Any major event is a stressful job, but three events in one day is certainly manageable.


So, how does this whole thing go down? Is someone in the booth supposed to call the trick out loud and they missed it?

It is a judges job to understand the riding and the general level of competition. If a judge sees an opposite trick or other information he feels may be helpful to the the team, he can feel free to call it out. 

In this case, we simply screwed up. We aren’t proud or happy about it. 

Ben did the 360 triple downside whip. We asked for a replay to confirm it was a triple - one of the judges called it as a triple and three of us - including myself - said it was only two. This caused even the judge that originally called it correctly to second guess himself. I can’t speak for everyone in the room, but I know more than half of the judges scored the trick wrong. I’m really upset with myself. I’m very familiar with Ben’s riding and was expecting this trick, but simply viewed it wrong in the heat of the moment. It’s a confusing trick, but thats no excuse. We are there to understand the riders and the riding and, in this case, we let Ben and his fans down. 

Ben finished in 7th. If the judging panel had realized he did a 360 downside triple tailwhip - not a double - on the last set, where would he have finished?

It is the overall opinion of the judges that Ben should have finished 5th place.

At what point and how did you realize there was an error?

We confirmed our worries that we messed up while reviewing Ben’s run during a commercial break towards the end of the event.

Was it too late to address it at that time?

We began addressing it and trying to figure out the best way to handle it immediately, but unfortunately it was too late to make adjustments to the scores during the actual event. 


What - if anything - can be done at this point?

I started with a phone call and an apology to Ben. Obviously judging is constantly criticized and questioned, but typically it is a matter of subjective opinions. In that case, we must have a thick skin and stand behind our professional assessments of the riding. However, Ben’s situation was a judging error. In the rare case that something like this occurs, we are not above owning our mistakes and seeing what can be done to rectify the issue. I’ve already been speaking with X Games to find a solution.

UPDATE: X Games will be paying Ben the additional prize money, so he will be compensated for a 5th place finish.

I know you take judging very seriously and take a lot of pride in your work. How do you deal with the backlash that comes from something like this?

Thank you. Yes - I personally work hard to understand the riders, their riding, and how to process all of the information as quickly and accurately as possible. The riding has gotten more complicated over the years, so you need to work at being a good judge. However, we are processing a lot of information quickly, so there’s a human element. In the rare case that there is a legitimate judging error, you simply need to own the mistake and do what can be done to right the wrong. I like to think that accepting and addressing the issue head on - as opposed to trying to bury the mistake - only adds credibility to both the judges and the event. We strive for a fairly judged, non-biased event.   

Do you think the judging system should be changed to a different format to eliminate situations like this? For example, Nitro World Games originally made riders submit their tricks beforehand… 

I certainly do not feel we should start assigning specific scores to tricks. This is a dangerous road that could strip BMX of its creative integrity. I’m always a fan of reviewing various ideas and formats to see if we can make the events better. At the end of the day, there needs to be fast scores to create a good show and this will always involve a human element. Ironically, the format you mentioned is the only other time in my eight years of judging major events that I’ve seen a legit judging error.


What can you - and the other judges - do to insure this doesn’t happen in the future?

I think the best thing we can do is study the riders and their riding even more - maybe even talk to them before the event. Again, I was totally expecting Ben to do the 360 triple downside tailwhip. I’ve seen him do it multiple times before, but if I’d studied the difference in his doubles and triples a little more, I wouldn't have gotten confused in the moment. 

We are there to know what we are looking at and get this stuff right.

Any final thoughts?

Thanks to X Games for another amazing event. I feel ESPN works hard to produce a fair and entertaining event. X Games gave us every tool to do the job right. Sorry again to Ben and the viewers for getting this one wrong.

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