Judging the Judges: The AJ Moore KB Swing Debacle

Photo credit: Christopher Nolan (not the director)
The big hullabaloo from the CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals was how AJ Moore got robbed of his shot of going to the Games in July due to some questionable judging. Basically, one judge in particular was singled out as his reason for not making it. As far as I know AJ did not appeal anything and tried his hardest to battle his way back to the top of the leaderboard; he handled himself like an adult and a true competitor.

I did not witness his WOD 4 heat first-hand but thanks to the interwebs, there's a video on YouTube. The controversy is that the judge took away 60 reps during AJ's kettlebell swings, which when you hear that it sounds completely ridiculous. How can you take away 60 reps on a kettlebell swing?

Here is how the standard for the kettlebell swing is described on the Games' site:
At the top of the swing, the kettlebell must be fully inverted (bell over the handle), centered over the feet with the hips and knees fully extended and the arms straight. At the bottom, the wrists must touch the thighs and the bell must pass behind the heels. There is no requirement for flexing the knees.
Seem pretty simple enough. If you need further clarification here's a link to the video explanation for Regional WOD 4. Now, let's take a look at AJ's kettlebell swings and see what all the fuss was about.

Granted the camera angle has some obstructions to the view but I have to agree with the judge's call. There are plenty of legit no-rep swings. We can't fully hear the judge in the video and just have to go by her arm movement (looks like an umpire calling safe) indicating a "No Rep" on the swing.

Tonight, I wanted to try this out with the standard in place, so after the WOD I had Kara judge a few reps. First I did a two-handed snatch with a 1.5 pood kb, punching through at the top. All of my reps were fine. Then, I tried a few standard American swings, going through what felt like full range of motion. Only one out of five of them was legit. The problem with the American swing is that it's hard to tell where the bell is over your head and if you try and stop it at the top to keep it vertical it tends to rotate back and you lose the bell, which would be a no rep because you're not maintaining control.

I understand the frustration felt in this situation. You just got done doing a 100 pull-ups. Your grip is probably close to gone, you're tired, sweaty and the kettlebell is probably really hard to hold onto. But here's the point, if you keep getting no rep after no rep called you have to take a second and ask the judge what you're doing wrong and correct it. You don't just keep motoring through wasting energy. You can hear a guy in the video (possibly the person operating the iphone) yelling out to snatch it up and press through the top. This is the only way to do a kettlebell swing based on the judging standard. I'm sure my shoulders would be on fire after 100 pull-ups and most likely my hands would have tears but it's far more efficient to do a snatch and punch through at the top because you're far less likely to get those reps taken away.
AJ Moore during WOD 2 of the CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regional
Photo credit: Crossfitphotos.com

The other issue was that the judge in question who was no-repping AJ was inconsistent when judging other athletes. I have no idea if that is true or not as I did not see every person she judged. I know that the head judge (Brad Mckee) would walk around and deliberately take reps away for the sake of taking reps away. I don't know if that was in his job description or if he has ridiculously high standards, but that seemed like his sole purpose for the weekend.

It's easy to say this now in retrospect but had AJ stopped, gotten clarification and modified his swing he would've easily been standing atop the podium, possibly in first. Pat Barber had a similar situation in the Australia Regional and after his fifth no-rep call, stopped and asked for clarification from the judge before continuing. The whole thing is really unfortunate and I feel bad for AJ because he dominated the rest of the competition. This was his time to shine and if he is somehow given an honorary bid to the Games (which I highly doubt), then all other Games' competitors need to be put on notice because he'll be coming with guns blazing. But for all of the people bitching about it on Facebook, or wherever, just let it go. What's done is done. It's an unfortunate situation but in this instance the judge was right.

***UPDATE: Michelle Benedict of CrossFit Fort Bragg talks about the Mid-Atlantic Regional, the judging standards and her controversial re-do on the Thruster workout.

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  1. The issue should not be whether AJ performed his reps to 100% of the letter of the law. The issue should be whether he was judged in a manner consistent with the way his competition was judged. This is proper criteria for EVERY athletic competition, fairness and consistency. I personally witnessed multiple heats of this wod, and I can honestly say that AJ was held to a much higher standard than any other competitor. And that is the point!

  2. Anonymous, you're right. Every competitor should be held to the same standards. But until CrossFit institutes robot judges, human error is going to be a factor. I watched the video of Iceland Annie perform WOD 4 in 16:00 minutes and had she been in Virginia performing that same WOD, she would've been no-repped left and right. Her judge was even telling her to swing the bell higher while still counting the rep. Is that fair? Hell no. And it's all on video too. So, what can be done to keep something like this from happening again?

  3. I think the answer is to have a paid judging staff just like the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL. Will there still be controversy? Sure, there is still controversy in those sports as well. But as long as it is on a volunteer basis, you have no way to reprimand a judge for calling an unfair heat or rep. I say cancel your Level 1 Certs for a few weeks each year and have the Cert Staff judge the Regionals. I am really anxious to see if there is conflict at the Games when people are fighting for 250K. Something tells me there will not be KB swings.

  4. I agree about no KB swings for competition, and no pushups either. Both of these things are great for training, but no good for competition. It's a new sport and mistakes will be made, hopefully we can admit the mistakes and move on.


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