Interview: Canadian Skating Judge Jean Senft

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Jean Senft, a current Olympic and world figure skating judge, is no stranger to the sport's controversial side. While judging at the Nagano Winter Games in 1998 she blew the whistle on behind-the-scenes vote trading after Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz were denied a medal. She was initially cited for national bias by the International Skating Union, but after she produced a taped phone solicitation from a Ukrainian judge the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the citation and suspended the implicated judges.

Senft spoke with from her home in West Vancouver about the current scandal, and described the tension and discipline that goes into sitting in judgment at the Olympic level:

TIME: A lot of people are wondering who these judges are, and what sort of training they've gone through to decide the fate of Olympic athletes

Jean Senft: It isn't just one day of prep work — it's a lifetime of preparation, keeping up with new skating moves, updating our own skills. Figure skating is at once sport and art, and we try to keep ourselves educated in the realms of art, ballet and music. Judges have to be strong, not just mentally, but also physically. At the Olympic level, we're all highly skilled skaters ourselves.

TIME: What's it like to be a judge at high-level competitions?

Senft: It's a very challenging thing to put yourself through, and it can also be enormously nerve-wracking. As a judge, we have to put skaters in a rank as we go, which means we have to keep track of what every skater does and continually compare them. So in a field of 30 skaters, we have to determine who should be 17th, and that requires very serious attention over an extended period of time. Then when the program's over, we have 20 seconds to make a decision that will be scrutinized and criticized for years to come.

TIME: Has the current scandal changed the way you think about skating? Or about judging skating?

Senft: Primarily, I just think this is such a shame. But I really believe that 99.9 percent of judges are totally honest. It's just that tiny percentage who are not that you have to worry about.

TIME: What kind of action would you recommend the ISU take?

Senft: I think they should move to having judges who are part of an independent association. They should no longer be assigned to judge these events according to their national federation. I also think judges should be hired and fired on the basis of competence.