Friday, October 4, 2013

Judging KB Sport

I've been to a few meets, and I've had some mixed experiences with judging. I've had a Russian coach and IUKL judge approve every rep of a very difficult set at a new bell weight. I've also had an American judge give no-counts for confident, consistently-paced reps while I set a new PR and well exceeded a rank score. The rules are fairly clear, actually, so it does beg the question just how subjective this sport can be. The jerk, snatch, and long cycle have one point in common, the top and drop. Let's consider just that point for the sake of brevity.

The Rules


The traditional rules for the jerk are simple, and these points are common to all governing bodies in the sport. See WKC rules, AKA/IUKL rules, and IGSF rules.
  • a first dip of the knees and a ballistic launch of the bell from the chest to a catch overhead on fully-extended arms. The bell must reach the top in a continuous, uniform motion.
  • the lifter must dip a second time during the launch to get below the bell before catching it overhead. The legs must not lock out until after the arms.
  • the bell must come to a stop under control overhead before being dropped into the next rep.
There are common minor variations of these standards. Catching with the legs basically extended but not locked. Extending the knees but not the hips. Incomplete extension of the elbows, but with the bells under control. Widely varied time spent overhead. YouTube videos of champions and world record performances display a vast range of allowed but questionable technique. One organization explicitly allows push-presses in their rules for the jerk, contradicting both the continuous motion rule and the elbows first rule.

Mistakes that earn a no-count are simple and few due to the very sequential nature of the lift standards:
  • if the launch is not sufficient to get the bells above fully-extended arms, the lifter might catch the bell with bent arms and press it up. This non-continuous motion is a no-count in all organizations except the one that allows push-presses.
  • if the lifter lacks the flexibility or confidence to execute the second dip and catch the bells with bent knees, the lifter might lock the knees during the launch, before the arms catch the bell. This lack of a second dip is a no-count but varies tremendously in the depth required between different judges and organizations. If you bend your knees out and back in while standing straight up, some orgs will count it.

The Methods

In other weightlifting sports, one performer takes the platform at a time. Powerlifting is primarily about the final joint alignment and not hitching the lifts up. Weightlifting is primarily about the timing of joint extension and immobilizing the weight overhead, as in kettlebell sport. These barbell sports both have "three white lights", three separate judges evaluating each lift and requiring at least two for the rep to count. A kettlebell sport judge may evaluate 100 reps over a 10 minute span for each lifter. There are usually several platforms running simultaneously, each with a single judge. Scaling three white lights to, say, kettlebells in the Olympics would be a nightmare even I wouldn't watch on TV.

Virtually every international rules document allows for the judge to establish a pace with a confident, consistent lifter and anticipate the count to shave off fractions of a second. Good lifters get a few short reps, maybe with a verbal warning to correct the next rep. Champion lifters may never actually immobilize the bell overhead and get rep counts before their elbows lock. The snatch in particular can become a whirlwind of continuous movement.

The (virtually) only public conversation going on today about judging methods involves the WKC Fixometer, a motion sensor attached to the bell and tracked by a mobile device. The motion sensor itself is documented to have a 0.3sec latency (Facebook chat with Federenko), plus the latency for data transfer and processing before a light/beep is displayed to count the rep. This is advertised as a "0.3 second fixation" standard, but it is clearly observed here...


and here...

... to be far too long for the anticipation and pacing expressly allowed in the rules. So many world records have been established with faster but acceptable technique, judged in real time by a human eye, and without the time between reps for these technical delays. I'd admit this presents a valuable training tool, but I maintain it is not ideal for competition.

The Controversy

The question is not whether we need a mechanical standard; I believe we do. For KB sport to ever appear in the Olympics, this sport will have to facilitate a gym full of lifters without requiring three judges per platform and majority rep counting. The problem today is actually inconsistency.
The Fixometer may be an excellent idea, but requiring an overhead hold as long as a full second for technological reasons is a burden unique to lifters under this one organization. The online "Wayback Machine" records that the WKC rules in Feb 2013 read as follows, emphasis theirs:
"Fixation is the final factor in a Judge issuing a Count. It proves proficiency in the lift, keeps the Meet fair, and aids in safety for the Lifters in the short and long term. We define it as the moment when the kettlebell is motionless in all planes, after the body is aligned and still. The Lifter must control the kettlebell(s) in the overhead position. A noticeable pause, without wobble, drifting or bounce, must be displayed. The Judge may at their discretion anticipate the stable pause and give the qualified lifter a quick count, but at any time the Judge may give a No-Count if the Lifter fails to control the Kettlebell(s). Being fatigued later in the set is no excuse for poor fixation. Fixation is the end of the rep."
The current WKC rules below (emphasis theirs) reflect, not the concepts of immobilization and control of the bell, but the technological limits of their for-sale motion sensor scoring product.
"Fixation Definition:
The kettlebell maintains <= 0.08G acceleration for >= 0.3 seconds, after the body is aligned and still.

Fixation is the final factor in a Judge issuing a Count. It proves proficiency in the lift, keeps the Meet fair, and aids in safety for the Lifters in the short and long term. The Lifter must control the kettlebell(s) in the overhead position. A noticeable pause, without wobble, drifting or bounce, must be displayed. The Judge may at their discretion anticipate the stable pause and give the qualified lifter a quick count, but at any time the Judge may give a No-Count if the Lifter fails to control the Kettlebell(s). Being fatigued later in the set is no excuse for poor fixation. Fixation is the end of the rep."
The ultimate goal is a consistent scoring standard that could be applied to 50 platforms at once with only 50 judges, and this is a step in that direction. It suffers from being highly commercialized and proprietary, and has also become an preapproval method for users wishing to compete at a higher rank. That in itself is not a bad idea. Defining the rules of the sport around the performance of a proprietary virtual stopwatch, however, is a bad idea. If next year's hardware can resolve down to 0.1sec but the software still lags, what expectation will the rules advertise, and how will it be enforced?

Final Thoughts

I'm concerned that the minor variations between "under control" and "fixated" are being stretched from the letter of the law to well beyond the spirit of that law. Any given lifter may oscillate in a stable stance when they breathe deeply. The notion of absolute immobility is impractical, but the notion of stability and control is both practical and necessary. That judges are allowed to quick-count one lifter but delay another lifter due to technical difficulties represents a gross misapplication of the rules. This doesn't even account for different organizations' rules regarding qualities like "alignment" and the second dip and the push press.

I wonder whether the motion-capture system used in movie production might be a better solution. Painted dots on the bells could be monitored by an HD camera connected or even built into a notebook computer. These systems are known to resolve and compute well below 0.1 second, as evidenced in 40fps HD video production and 60fps HD computer gaming. It would also provide the video of record for archive and publishing.

Frankly, I would like to see the day when we have equipment to evaluate a full-stop for 0.1 seconds and keep score automatically. Judges would be free to evaluate joint alignment and press-outs instead of microscopic movements, with the timer serving as a veto instead of a prerequisite. I would also love to see the current world records renewed under those new standards. I believe issues like "alignment" will vary from lifter to lifter and are greatly dependent on style and weight class.  But, the movement of the bell is a simple matter of physics and deserves better attention than we currently give it.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment