Since 1957 former Olympian Jackie Fie (SESP59) has presided over women's gymnastics competitions while helping to build the sport in the United States.
During the women's all-around competition, the vaulting horse had mistakenly been set five centimeters below the regulation height. That slim but significant error resulted in dangerous vaults and low scores.
The error was discovered by a Romanian coach after 18 gymnasts had competed on the vault. As the third-term president of the Women's Technical Committee for the International Federation of Gymnastics, Fie (SESP59), in consultation with other judging officials, made the decision to allow each gymnast the option of redoing her vaults. Only five gymnasts elected to repeat.
A lifetime in the sport helped prepare Fie for such pressure-packed decisions. She began gymnastics as a child growing up in Chicago 's Rogers Park. While in high school she competed regionally and nationally, placing in the medal count at numerous competitions.
When she arrived at Northwestern, she continued to train daily off campus at the Lincoln Turners and Chicago Park District field houses because the University lacked equipment for women.
During her sophomore year, Fie competed for the United States in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. She retired from competition after a trampoline injury a year later. But while still a junior she began judging national competitions. In 1965 Frank Bare, then executive director of the United States Gymnastics Federation, picked Fie to work with him to improve the sport.
"She virtually developed the girls sport in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States," Bare says. "She just worked and worked, and we needed that."
Judging international competitions during the Cold War, Fie worked with people from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Mike Jacki, former vice president of FIG, says that Fie's understanding of other cultures improved her relationships with officials from other countries.
"Jackie mastered the technical terminology and a high level of conversational German, because it was the language of the technical committee," Jacki says. "It was a sign of her commitment to her profession."
Fie now oversees the rules, the judging and the format of the competitions at major meets such as the World Championships and the Olympic Games.
During her 28-year tenure on the Women's Technical Committee, including 12 years as president, she further developed a shorthand style that all judges must learn and use while judging a routine. She also modified the Code of Points, the scoring guidelines for judges.
"Jackie has been responsible for writing the rules that end up awarding Olympic medals," says Jacki. "She has refined the Code to where a judge can definitively defend her score. Nobody knows the rules better than Jackie."
As president, Fie installed a computer program to keep track of judges' scoring patterns to prevent favoritism. Fie says judging in artistic gymnastics is now more fair and consistent than it has ever been. "Bias and collusion by some judges was evident," she says. "There needed to be a neutral same standard control."
After investing more than 60 years in gymnastics, Fie plans to retire at the end of this year. The 2004 Athens Olympic Games will be her last as a technical delegate.
Retirement will be a welcome change, Fie says. She plans to visit her children and grandchildren, resume golfing and spend more time with her husband, Larry.
- Beth Lipoff (J06)