Generation Iron Judgement Day

What are the judges looking for?

Could there be an underlying bias when it comes to judging? How does one see the difference between what makes the perfect back double bicep? Is there a clear understanding of what an exceptional lat spread should look like? Judging perfection is truly a tall task to say the least and a challenge for even the most detail oriented judge. At the Arnold Classic Europe the top two bodybuilders in the men’s category were Shawn Rhoden and Dennis Wolf. Rhoden and Wolf took 3rd and 4th place respectively in the prior week’s 2014 Mr. Olympia competition, but things changed up a bit at the Arnold Classic. Wolf found himself in the top spot over Rhoden. How could one week make all the difference? Taking a look at the judging criteria is as good a place as any to start.

The International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB) breaks judging into three separate rounds. The two prejudging rounds are designed to study resting physique and the body during posing. By the time the finals come round the last few remaining competitors are compared side by side to see who is the best in their category. Each round is designed to break down comparisons as intricately as possible. Perhaps the biggest problem with judging these rounds is that each round should be considered an entire event in and of itself. Many judges fall into the trap of judging athletes on an overall basis rather than one round at a time. The prejudging is designed to make comparisons between the finalists as simple as possible. Getting two evenly matched competitors to face off in the finals makes things all the more complicated.

Which brings us back to the Arnold Classic Europe. Wolf and Rhoden’s placement begs the question: was there a significant difference between their physiques one week removed from the Mr. Olympia competition? More than likely not. Which leads to another question: if their physiques were relatively the same, what criteria are these athletes being judged on? Upon taking a closer look at things, there seemed to be one clear answer: whoever was the better showman would take home the gold. Competitions are based on more than just the physical. Personality and charisma have to be factored in. An athletes stage presence could be the difference between winning and losing in this game of scrutiny.

Perhaps Dennis Wolf’s routine contained the energy and charisma that he may have somewhat lacked in the Mr. Olympia competition. Perhaps Rhoden wasn’t as enthusiastic in his own performance. The Arnold Classic Europe highlighted those differences. Wolf was clearly more animated during his side by side comparison with Rhoden who seemed more reserved. There was an electricity in all of Wolf’s poses and while Rhoden looked just as impressive his confidence seemed to have a different energy than his German counterpart. It’s a game of numbers and if the judges are looking for something to make them turn their heads it’s on the athlete to draw their attention.

Did Wolf improve that much more over Rhoden between competitions? It’s still hard to judge based purely on their physical gifts. What we did see was that Wolf had a showmanship that out shined Rhoden’s more laid back approach. Judging in any sport isn’t easy and when two athletes are so closely matched, like Wolf and Rhoden, the margin of error is a fine line. Judges want to be won over, they want to be sold. Wolf was able to do just that and make his case.

What criteria are do you judge on? Leave a comment below or follow us on Facebook and Twitter and sound off.

Jonathan Salmon
Managing editor of Generation Iron, Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. He has been writing about bodybuilding, combat sports, and strength sports for over 8 years. Check out his YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Sound Cloud for in-depth MMA analysis.