WASHINGTON, July 18 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – Behind the sparkly costumes and elaborate twirls of rhythmic gymnastics is a world so fiercely competitive that the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has revoked certificates given to dozens of international judges vying to judge elite competitions like the Olympics due to allegations of cheating among test takers and proctors.
The FIG Disciplinary Commission took even harsher action this month against members of the technical committee, which oversees rules for competition and training for international judges, suspending six people – including Natalyia Kuzmina of Russia and Caroline Hunt of the United States – from official duties until December 31, 2014.
“They will be allowed to continue to train judges, however they will not be permitted to examine them, to award brevets (certificates) or decide on the allocation of judging levels, nor will they be allowed to oversee the judges at any competition,” said FIG in a statement announcing the decision, which followed an investigation of several months.
The tests in question were given late last year following training courses in Bucharest, Moscow, and Alicante, Spain. It’s not clear if Hunt or Kuzmina were present during the tests, or were suspended because of their positions on the technical committee.
A New York Times examination of several hundred pages of documents stemming from the investigation found reports of answer sheets that had “suspicious adjustments… blatant copying, unexplained bonus points.”
It also found “114 answers were changed on dozens of tests” in Moscow, 257 answers changed in Spain, and clear evidence that test takers in Romania copied answers – including mistakes – from each other.
“It is a very difficult test because it is very detailed. You have to memorize how much to deduct for the errors, the mistakes, so as a judge sometimes you have to memorize all these factors,” said Karen Recinto, a former regional judging coordinator for USA Gymnastics who worked under Hunt, the senior director of its rhythmic gymnastics program.
USA Gymnastics is the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States.
At both the national and international levels, judges are placed in categories that are based on the tests they have passed and their years of experience. The tests in the FIG controversy were for elite, international competitions run by FIG, including the Olympics, World Championships and World Cups.
In a statement, USA Gymnastics said it “fully supports Caroline and recognizes her integrity and commitment to fair play and the sport of rhythmic gymnastics.” The statement also said it would “appeal the decision on Caroline’s behalf.”
Hunt declined to comment to RIA Novosti “in respect of the appeal process,” but several people acquainted with her work defended her.
“I know Caroline. There’s no way she would be part of any scandal, no way. I know her too well. She is extremely smart, honest. I can only tell you good things about her,” said Irina Vdovets, owner of the Illinois Rhythmic Gymnastics Center and Hunt’s first coach, who trained her for 14 years, beginning when she was three years old.
“She’s very bright, smart, she knows the sport well. Because of her, really, the rhythmic gymnastics program is moving forward in the US,” added Vdovets, a rhythmic gymnastics champion of Moscow and a two-time US Olympic rhythmic coach, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“I think it’s just unfortunate that Caroline’s name is dragged into this. She’s very professional,” said Recinto.
Another Hunt acquaintance who asked not to be identified said she “believes in Caroline 100 percent,” adding, “This is not a woman who would do anything to taint or color a sport she loves.”
Olympic judges are paid a per diem but receive no other financial compensation. Several gymnastics insiders told RIA Novosti the drive to be an international judge is about the prestige and the desire to play on a global stage.
The president of the FIG technical committee, Maria Szyszkowska of Poland, was stripped of her FIG membership, has been excluded from any participation in FIG events and her level 1 judging certification has been revoked.
The 56 test takers whose test results were thrown out will be allowed to repeat the exam “at the earliest possible juncture in Germany, under the supervision of three experts to be chosen by the presidential commission,” FIG said in a statement.
All of those disciplined have the right to submit an appeal to the FIG Appeals Tribunal within 21 days.