The Olympic Vault Judge Known Around the World



The 2012 Olympic Games had some amazing moments.

Source: USA Gymnastics

The US Women’s team comprised of Gabrielle Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Alexandra Raisman, Kyla Ross, and McKayla Maroney won Gold.

Many expected Jordyn Wiber to walk away with the AA Gold but she did not even qualify for the AA Finals.  Instead, fellow US Team member Gabby Douglas won Gold.

In Event Finals; McKayla Maroney won Silver on Vault and Aly Raisman won Bronze on Beam & Gold on Floor.

BUT what many people, including the media, were talking about from these Games was the look on one  judge’s face when Maroney nailed her vault during Team Finals.

In shock at the performance of Maroney’s vault, US Judge Cheryl Hamilton was pictured with jaw dropped and mouth wide open.

We had the opportunity to talk to Cheryl Hamilton about her judging career and that now memorable moment.

GBC: How did you get involved in the sport of gymnastics?

CH: I took gymnastic lessons as a child.

GBC: When and why did you want to become a women’s gymnastics judge?

CH: I was working at a gymnastic school and my boss asked if I would take the judging test since they were involved in a league that required the club committing to bring a judge.  That was a number of years ago.

Cheryl Hamilton (2nd Judge from the Right) at the 2016 Olympic Games. Source: Cheryl Hamilton

GBC: Many people know that Women’s Judges in the US are rated from Level 4/5 to Level 10 and then National.  What is your rating and explain the different “levels” within that rating?

CH: I am an internationally rated Brevet judge.  They are rated by categories. There are 4 categories of Brevet judges.

GBC: How does a judge, male or female, go from a National rated judge to a Brevet rated judge?

CH: If you are referring to the international Brevet, then you must have been an athlete that competed internationally to be considered.

GBC: How did you get involved with working with the Women’s National Team?

CH: I was asked by Marta Karolyi to come to camp on a monthly basis.

GBC: What is your current role with the Women’s National Team?

CH: In the past I judged the gymnasts on all 4 events. I then typed up the routines for Marta and then Valeri. If the coaches requested it, I would give feed back to them about the routines. We have not really had verification camps since we quit going to the ranch. I am going to camp on Nov 25 and I will see what Tom wants me to do.

GBC: What was your first big international assignment as a judge and what were your feelings going into that assignment?

CH: My first international assignment was in 1987. I went to Moscow, Russia and to St. Petersburg, Russia. I was truly honored to be asked to represent the country at this competition. I have to admit I was nervous. I was also delegation leader. I was in charge of the men and women both on this trip. What  a challenge.

GBC: Do you still get the opportunity to judge competitions at the JO compulsory and/or optional levels?  If so, how does it compare to judging on the World or Olympic scene?

CH: I still judge all levels in the age group program. It is different rules so hard to compare. Honestly the level I have the hardest time with is XCEL.  I need every cheat sheet I have in order to keep the levels and the rules straight.

GBC: While on an international assignment, do you get the chance to do some sight-seeing?  If so, what has been your favorite place to visit so far?

CH: Sometimes.  Normally there is not a lot of time but have gotten to do some. When I went to World Championships this year I did have some time. I even got to ride a camel. I think my favorite places have been Namibia and South Africa. They were beautiful countries.

GBC: You are famously now known for “the look” on your face when Mckalya Maroney landed her vault during Team Finals at the 2012 Olympic Games.  Looking back on it, do you laugh about the moment or are you embarrassed by it?

CH: I laugh about it and also a little embarrassed.  It was a wonderful vault and I was just saying “Oh my God. They caught me at “God”.  It was a reaction to a wonderful vault.

GBC: What is your role on the National Technical Committee and what are you responsible for?

CH: I  am chairman of the Technical  committee. The technical committee works with the age group committee to establish the rules for levels 6 – 10.  We also work with the XCEL committee. The technical committee develops all the course work for the National and USA Brevet courses. I also wrote the National test and the USA Brevet test.  The committee also judges the base score films for use at the State, Regional and National level. Anything to do with judging is the job of the technical committee. We are also involved in writing and proofing the Age group code.

GBC: It has been said, the US Team was so successful because of Martha Karolyi’s leadership and coaching.  But we just came off a successful World Championships without her leadership.  You have had the opportunity to stand back and observe trainings and competitions with and without her, what do you have to say about that?

CH: It is the system and the coaches and gymnasts that makes it so successful.  Valeri followed Marta and it was successful at the 2017 World Championships.  Marta was a leader but she really did not coach the gymnast. She would make comments at camps but individual coaches and the National staff were very instrumental in the success of the teams. It was always a group effort.

GBC: Tom Forster, during Worlds, was posting daily updates on trainings and competitions on his Facebook page.  He seems to be saying and doing a lot of things many people feel are a positive step forward.  What are your thoughts?

CH: Tom is very transparent with what is going on. That is a good thing. He is open to listening to the coaches and the athletes. Another good thing. The coaches and the gymnasts are continuing to work very hard. Tom is very encouraging.


GBC: The FIG just passed a new rule that states “Face painting is not allowed; any make-up must be modest and not portray a theatrical character (animal or human).”  This was in response to Dutch gymnast Celine van Gerner matching her makeup to the choreography of her Cats themed floor routine at the 2018 European Championships.  What are your thoughts on this as a judge?

CH: Gymnastics is a sport. I don’t really like the face painting. This is not a broadway production. The gymnast puts on a show with their tremendous athletic ability. Theatrical makeup is not necessary.

GBC: The FIG is also considering lowering the age limit from 16 in order to compete at the Sr. level.  What are your thoughts on that?

CH: I really have no opinion on this.

GBC: In 2019, there will be the first Jr. World Championships held in Hungary.  Do you think this will push NBG to train athletes at a younger level and possibly train harder leading to early burnout?

CH: Time will tell. Some young gymnast will find a great deal of success at this level. Then see what happens next.

GBC: As our sport continues to evolve, what are some positive and negative changes you have seen in gymnastics?

CH: The skill level just keeps getting higher and higher. Who knows what will happen next.  I am so happy that I have been involved to see such great gymnastics.  We have wonderful athletes in our country.  We are heads and shoulders above the rest of the world. I really have nothing negative to say.

GBC: What is a gymnastics related bucket list item you have?

CH: I have done more than I ever even thought about. I took my first judging test because my boss asked me to since at the time the league the gym was involved with had to bring a judge to the competition.  I took the test and lucked out and did well. A few years later when I got a call that I was being asked to be an international Brevet I was shocked. I never set that as a goal or anything. I was just going along and judging local and Regional and a few JO National meets. There was not a lot of judges back then. Shocked how it has all played out is an understatement.  I have worked very hard and have been lucky to do what I have done. Everything has been icing on the cake for me. I really have nothing on the bucket list since never had a list ever to achieve this or that. I have been blessed and honored as can be possible to do what I have done. At time stressful, but has been a fun ride and so honored.



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