Tag Archive for: Officials Day

The story of an official, the unsung heroes of figure skating

The officials of figure skating are a diverse bunch, often misunderstood, often underestimated, sometimes undervalued.

They are the glue that holds the sport together, but they sit seemingly silently in their seats, judging what they see, figuring it all out, pushing all the buttons, letting their fingers do the talking. What would a figure skating competition be without them?

They are the sport’s guidebooks. They know all the rules. They impart them, offer a helpful hand to developing skaters through monitoring, and they share in the moments of a rockin’ good skate.

They are unpaid volunteers. They give up all of their holiday time to offer up their services, even sitting on committees to further the sport. Some, like Olympic judge Karen Howard, a teacher in Regina, Saskatchewan, says she doesn’t mind not being paid to judge. But she goes further. She has an agreement with her local school board to give up 10 per cent of her salary to allow her an extra 20 days a year to use for judging days. She’s missed some crucial basketball games, played by her daughters. It helps to have a supportive family.

It’s a price they are willing to pay. Judge Andre-Marc Allain won’t call it a sacrifice. A marketing/communications director for a department of the federal government, Allain looks at his judging career as an investment in pursuing a passion.

There is a common theme that keeps recurring with skating officials: volunteerism is a motivator. When Allain wrapped up his skating career in Moncton, N.B., at 16, he felt a sense of duty to give back to the community. And he had a mentor, Geraldine Leger, who had been the first triple-gold test judge from New Brunswick, who saw the potential in him to judge. Now he’s been doing it for 26 years.

Howard came from Melville, population 5,000, where volunteerism is a way of life. “Having good role models who were always out at our test days and judging, that really hooked me,” she said.

Howard, too, began work to become a judge at 16, the youngest you can be. She had already started to do the preparatory work before the magic birthday. Sometimes, she missed the odd school day to do some trial judging. Her parents were always supportive.
It’s not easy to become a judge, particularly in Canada. And it takes time, as candidates gradually advance, taking clinics and workshops and seminars along the way. It took Howard 18 years before she got her first international assignment. It took Allain about 15.

Howard has now been judging for 32 years, 14 of them internationally. Although she has never judged a world championship, she was on the Olympic panel for the women’s event in Sochi. It’s important, along the way, she said, to “develop a thick outer skin,” to judge with confidence and conviction.

By the end of last season, Canada had 1,640 accredited officials, when you take into account all the judges from pairs, singles and ice dancing and synchronized skating and the technical controllers and specialists. And don’t ever forget the data specialists, says Norm Proft, the former officials program manager for Skate Canada. They take all the numbers from the officials and run the software that does the ultimate calculation.

“If you’re going to talk about the unsung heroes of the skating world, you’re talking about data specialists,” Proft said. Why? If skater No. 1 takes to the ice at 8 a.m., the data specialist is at the rink at 5:30 a.m., setting up equipment. If the last skater finishes at 9 p.m, the data specialist will be there for another hour, finishing up.

“The majority of the work they perform occurs in the back room where you can’t even see the ice,” Proft said. “If the data specialists have done a great job, nobody knows that they’re there.” It takes a special kind of personality to do the job well, he added: they are sticklers for detail and accuracy and they have an abiding knowledge of rules and process.

What many people don’t realize is that the skating sections across the country create the judges from the ground up. Skate Canada benefits from the enormous work done by the sections to bring judges through the rudimentary levels. Skate Canada may do five competitions, such as Challenge, the Canadian championships, Skate Canada International, synchronized skating championships in a season: a section might do that many competitions in a month.

And judges at these lower levels are needed. While Skate Canada has about 2,500 competitive skaters, there are 27,000 recreational skaters, doing competitions, too. “As an official, it’s an honour to be part of that child’s moment,” said Proft, who is an accredited technical controller and specialist. “As an official, you want the focus to stay on the child. If you do your job right, the kid can compete, get a hug from their coach, get a hug from their parent, they look at the results and then they go to Dairy Queen.”

This season for the first time, the International Skating Union administered the test for international and ISU judges, all to make the level of judging more consistent. In other years, federations would test and accredit their own judges and then recommend them to the ISU. Now countries recommend judges to the ISU to take a three-day clinic in Frankfurt, Germany. “It’s intense,” Howard says. There is trial judging, a written exam, too and element identification.

However, Skate Canada rigorously tests its judges even before they go for ISU testing. “We like to say we have the best officials in the world,” Proft says. “As part of their education, a great deal of attention is paid to ethics. We’re proud of the level of ethics as demonstrated by our officials – not to say that other countries don’t.” Some countries have a much more rigorous examination process than others, and perhaps more resources.

Howard says the Canadian test is perhaps even tougher than the ones given at the Frankfurt seminar. She took over the writing of that Canadian exam, and feels it’s better that officials are well prepared for the ISU test. “I call it a challenging exam,” Howard said. “It makes you think.”

Allain who is a certified international judge and technical controller and specialist in various disciplines, including ice dancing, would love to judge at an Olympics, like Howard, but “I get the same level of fulfillment and excitement when I do regional and club events,” he said.

And Howard? She returned home from Sochi to judge the Canadian adult championships in Regina. Suddenly, she was judging women who were her age or older. “To see the joy and passion that they had in their performances and their skating, I thought what a great way to tie this amazing year together,” she said.

*** Officials are an integral part of our sport; their dedication to the success of our athletes is evident through the countless hours they spend each year servicing our competitions and test days. Take this opportunity to thank an official!

If you are interested in becoming an official contact your section office to get started!

Beverley Smith

Judges & referees – day two of our officials coverage

We are continuing our coverage of the various roles officials play in figure skating. Yesterday we featured the data specialist and the evaluator in our celebration of Officials Day in Canada (happening tomorrow), today we look at the judge and the referee!


Definition: A judge is a volunteer who has been trained to judge competitions. Judges assign both program component (PC’s) marks and grades of execution (GOE’s). PC’s look at the components (skating skills, transitions/linking footwork and movement, performance/execution, choreography/composition, interpretation of the music) of an entire program. GOE’s are assigned to specific elements in a program and rate the quality of execution of every element.


Nathalie Delisle: For me, skating is a passion. I have been skater, trainer and now judge for over 10 years and I love it! I was looking to do something to stay close to my sport and the skaters.  It was also very important for me to stay involved in the development of my sport, as well as for the skaters.  My role as judge helps me see and understand various levels of skating.  It is a wonderful experience to communicate what I’m learning with athletes and coaches to help improve the athletes’ skating skills and be the best they can be. I have built some strong relationships with coaches, skaters and many other people in the skating community.


Definition: A referee at a competition is an experienced judge who has received further training to conduct a competitive event and monitor the performance of the panel of judges.


Cynthia Alepin: Encouraged by my mother (who has been a judge and volunteer for the past 45 years), the Quebec Section, and countless talented mentors, I began judging as a skater and have enjoyed my many experiences as a Skate Canada official for the past 35 years.

I am grateful to Skate Canada for entrusting me with a referee role at the 2014 Canadian Synchronized Skating Championships in Burnaby, B.C. It was my great privilege to sit on a panel with my peers and to evaluate and enjoy the performances of the 41 teams of talented skaters from all across Canada. These national championships included world class teams, personal best performances and a standard which has reached new heights.

My duties as referee gave me the opportunity to liaise more closely with the devoted volunteers, the Local Organizing Committee, the team of tech and data specialists and the Skate Canada staff whose time, skill and efforts behind the scenes were invaluable to the preparation and delivery of this national event.

Thank you to all those who dedicated themselves to the success of this event, in support of the wonderful discipline of synchronized skating. It was truly an honor to share this experience and I look forward to next year with great anticipation when Canada welcomes teams from all over the world at the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Hamilton, Ontario.

Tomorrow is Officials Day in Canada! Skate Canada will be celebrating by continuing to provide more information on the importance of the roles of officials in figure skating!

Skate Canada Celebrating Officials Day in Canada

This Wednesday, April 16, the country will be celebrating Officials Day in Canada! Our sport depends on officials, from club test days all the way to high caliber events like the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships and the Olympic Games.

At Skate Canada all of our officials are volunteers. These selfless people give up a tremendous amount of time to be trained, and continue to dedicate more time applying their skills at competitions. This week we are honoured to be highlighting the different types of officials you can find on a figure skating panel as well as providing some profiles and testimonials from our officials in the field.

To get you ready for our week of officials education check out this video of Skate Canada’s Chief Sport Officer, Patricia Chafe, who sat down with CTV Ottawa Morning in January at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships to discuss how the judging panel comes together!

First up are the data specialists and the evaluators!


Definition: A data specialist is a volunteer who has been trained and certified to calculate the results of skating competitions either manually or using computer software. They ensure the judges have the correct materials needed for competition, as well as ensuring the judging panel computers run properly. Data Specialists are usually behind the scenes at a competition, however the Results System Manager (RSM), who is also a data specialist, spends many long hours rink-side ensuring the results are processing correctly through the computer during the competition.


Krista Sellers is a dedicated volunteer to the sport of figure skating and has been an active volunteer for over 15 years. She became a Level III Data Specialist in 2007. Krista possesses all of the necessary skills to be a successful data specialist. She is organized, professional and dedicated. During events, Krista always has a smile on face and is willing to answer any questions or concerns you may have. Krista has also spent time fulfilling the role of RSM at various events for Skate Canada. She is a very versatile volunteer and is also a member of the Officials Assignment and Promotion Committee for Skate Canada.


Definition: An evaluator is a volunteer who has been trained and certified to evaluate tests in the STARSkate program. You will see evaluators at local test days evaluating freeskate, skating skills, ice dance, and interpretive tests.


Donna Bierko: I decided to become a judge and evaluator because of my own curiosity of how the marks for skaters are obtained. I was approached by a family friend who suggested that I go for some training and then decide whether I wanted to pursue my involvement with skating as an official. More than 20 years later, I am still involved as an evaluator and judge. I truly enjoy working with the skaters and coaches to see the skaters develop through our system. While there have been times that I can get frustrated with my own judging, my experiences as an evaluator have been very positive and rewarding.

I was raised by parents who instilled in me the importance of volunteering and giving back to those who give to you. Giving back to skating as a volunteer is just one of the reasons why I am an evaluator. The main reason is that I know that at the end of the day, I have made a difference in the life of a skater. When I see the smile on the skater’s face after passing a test or when I see our champions on television at the various skating events, I am reminded of the importance of my small contribution in their skating career — a contribution I would never give up.

Stay tuned tomorrow as we highlight the judge and referee roles!