Olympics beckoning for judge Brendene

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WHEN the gymnastics get under way at the London Olympics a Blackpool woman will be as busy as anyone, though you won’t see Brendene Hardy on TV.

But if the women’s artistic gymnastics events go smoothly at the O2 Arena, that will be down in no small part to the lady from Wolverton Avenue, North Shore.

Brendene is the judge’s liaison officer for these events, a role she describes as “the general dogsbody who makes sure everything is nice and smooth and serene”.

The role is far more prestigious than Brendene, who will celebrate her 70th birthday while in the capital for London 2012, makes it sound and involves co-ordinating the activities of a panel of gymnastics judges who will fly in from all over the globe to adjudicate at the Games.

She explained: “My job is to make sure they all know where they are going and what they are doing, and that they have all the necessary paperwork.

“The first job will be to make sure they all arrive safely at the hotel from Heathrow, and then get them on the right bus to collect their accreditation.”

Brendene performed the equivalent role at the World Championships two years ago and at the European Championships in Birmingham, but she admits the London Olympics are on a whole different scale.

The role is unpaid but at least Brendene will be able to watch the best exponents of the sport she loves live in the arena.

She continued: “Once the competition starts on July 28 (gymnastics is among the first events to get under way), all the judges will be in the arena, so I will be too. In the event of any protests over the judging, I will be involved to make sure everyone understands the procedure.

“I’m linked up to the judges by radio, and you can bet your bottom dollar that you’ll be at one end of the arena when you are called to the other end, so hopefully you can lose a little weight in the process.”

It’s no surprise to learn that Brendene is a top-ranking judge herself. A member of the world’s elite judging panel, the ‘international brevet’ for close to 30 years, she has judged at World and European Championships, as well as the Commonwealth Games and World Student Games.

What is more surprising is that she was not a keen competitor herself, her involvement in the sport coming largely through her husband, Keith, with whom she formed a successful coaching team.

Brendene, who has always lived on the Fylde coast, explains: “It’s not that unusual for coaches not to have been competitors. A lot of them come from teaching backgrounds (she taught biology).

“My husband was a gymnast and a coach, and you sort of get sucked in.

“I’m sure that all coaches question why their gymnasts don’t get higher marks at some competitions, so I became more interested in that side and went on a judging course. The rest is history.”

Brevene has been coaching and judging since the 1970s, when she was a co-founder of the Fylde Coach Gymnastic Club.

She does less hands-on coaching these days but remains an elite judge and has held a place on the National Women’s Technical Committee since 1998.

Brevene intends stepping down from the committee next year, adding: “It will be time to let the youngsters have a go, though I’ll still judge locally.

“It’s not like other sports, like footall, in that the rulebook is rewritten every four years. Gymnastics is an evolving sport, so every four years all the judges have to requalify to ensure they can judge fairly.

“To get through all the levels of judging to reach the top ones is quite stressful, but the competitors put in hours and hours of practice per week, so it’s only right that the judges are well qualified.”

As for Team GB’s medal chances in London, Brendene remains cautiously optimistic.

“It really is one of those sports where everything depends on how you perform on the day. We did extremely well in the European Championships recently, coming fourth, but at the Olympics we have China and the USA in there too.

“I think we have an outside chance of getting into the top eight and qual-ifying for the team finals, then with the wind in the right direction you never know.”

But whoever finishes up on the podium, Brendene will do her best to ensure the judges who put them there are as well drilled as the gymnasts themselves.

“It’s very tiring but hugely enjoyable,” adds Brendene, who is counting down the days until her July 22 departure for the capital and sport’s greatest show on earth.