Andy Hall (GBR) has been a judge for over a decade. He is one of the founding members of the judge committee playing a significant role in the development of the sport. We talked with him about the progression of STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® and his personal relation to the sport.
Tell us a little bit about yourself - when and how did you become a STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® judge?
The beginning was back in the early 2000s. I've been in the arboriculture/forestry industry the best part of 30 years and back in those early times I came across Spike Milton (former UK professional athlete, now Global Sports Director). We all just knew that he kept disappearing off around the world wood chopping. And we were like what is he up to? What's all this? This was back in the time when the series only had just come over to Europe and it started to expand pretty quickly. So, I was approached as to whether I'd like to be involved with the series. It was quite refreshing and quite different so I thought yes, I want to be involved with that. I remember I made a trip over to Austria to a train the trainer event and from there on I was invited to an initial judge's training session in Holland.
Is there a connection between your every day job and the sport?
Yes, the arboriculture industry is all about tree maintenance so all my career I've been involved in cutting wood, cutting trees, working with power saws. Getting involved in the sport puts another angle on the work side of it. It's almost like what we call a busman's holiday. We are doing it day to day but when you see it from the sport's perspective it puts a completely different angle on it.
What is the fascination of STIHL TIMBERSPORTS®?
The fascination I guess is that woodcutting is kind of primal, it's sort of a Darwinian thing. Ever since time begun man has cut wood to make fire to survive. Everything starts with that. It's inbred in everybody that's why everybody can relate to it. Even if you are at home in the garden chopping a bit of wood – if you've ever done that and if you've ever done it in a work capacity you know how difficult it is. It's really hard. It's tough. And when you see these guys doing it in a matter of seconds you think: wow, what's going on here? It's insane. And of course, when you get to the Stock Saw or Hot Saw – I mean everybody loves an engine - everybody loves a bit of power behind it!
What are the main improvements you have seen over the last decade in this sport?
So, when I first started the Championships were professional but quite basic. When you look at the technology that's involved now and also the infrastructure behind the series it's a vast difference. High definition, high speed cameras, the timing system – we are really at the cutting edge of technology. If you look at the competitors who are out there now – they are training and competing as real athletes on a professional level. I think the guys now know that to compete to the highest level they got to have excellent training, excellent facilities, they really do have to take it seriously.
I think if you look at the whole setup of the series now the development of rookies is absolutely fantastic. Years ago when I first started there was a rookie route into the series but certainly not how it is now. We never used to have a Rookie World Championship, some countries would have Rookie Cups but again – not on the level we're doing now.
In general, there's a great level of participation with 23 countries taking part in international competitions like World Championships. You know there's thousands of athletes now all around the world. It is exploding as a series, it really is.
How do you see the future of STIHL Timbersports®?
The passion I've seen from both European and overseas competitors, I think it's only positive. It's the same in any sport: you got to have a good youth system coming through and when we look at some of the rookies and young professionals, I think the series is in safe hands. I think there is plenty of new blood coming through. There's a degree of excitement that's out there, lots of people and new countries want to be involved with it. That's got to be a positive thing.
What was your favorite competition moment so far?
Over ten years you are asking me to pick one moment? That's a real tough one to do. There's been so many! The ones that really get me going are the ones where you can feel the hairs rising on the back of your neck and arms. I've had those moments a few times upon deck. Perhaps the first one was my very first team's race at my very first World Championship. I couldn't believe what I was seeing - to be on deck that close to the guys performing with such intensity. I remember thinking: I've just seen something really special here! Another moment was the Champions Trophy in Hamburg. I saw Stirling Hart come from behind and overtake Jason Wynyard. That was an incredible moment. Last year's World Championship in the team race – the heat between New Zealand and Poland. I mean, who could have predicted that? Just incredible! There's been so many real exciting things that happened.
Have you ever tried the disciplines? How did it go?
I'm pretty tasty on the stock saw, however I have tried the Single Buck - and that is solid! That is a really tough discipline. Really tough.
How long did it take you?
It took me too long, I wouldn't have won any medals. I might even have got a DQ!
How do you feel about the World Championship coming to the UK in 2018?
I think it's fantastic! For the last ten years I've been travelling around Europe doing all the different competitions. So, to come home I think it's brilliant. There's a lot of fans in the UK so it's great to bring such a competition to Liverpool. And Liverpool is a great city as well. I just think it's magical – it will be brilliant!