Beard revolutionized the sport by implementing computerized scoring

Lake Oswego's Al Beard is still an active accountant for competitive figure skating events and recently returned from his Hall of Fame induction. Lake Oswego's Al Beard has never figure skated competitively in his life, nor has he coached competitive skaters. But the 76-year-old Mary's Woods resident now finds himself as a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Beard was a computer engineer by trade before retiring, making him perhaps an odd candidate for this induction but his contributions to the sport were nothing short of revolutionary.

Beard first became interested in figure skating when his daughter took it up and began competing. Wanting to be involved in some capacity, Beard used his analytical skills to take on the role as an accountant during events in 1971, tabulating skaters' scores and supplying them to officials and the media.

It was, at times, a cumbersome process, taking up to an hour to get official results to competitors.

“I heard stories from other competitions that sometimes it wouldn't even be until the next day when scores were posted. It wasn't like a track event where you instantly know who won,” Beard said.

As a result, figure skating was a much different event than the one we witness now where competitors understand where they stand almost instantaneously.

“They would just go out and try to skate their best and just see what happens,” Beard said.

Shortly after becoming involved in the accounting process, Beard recognized that the scoring system could be dramatically sped up and improved.

“I realized it was an area ripe for computerization,” Beard said.

So, in his downtime, Beard created a system that would allow scores to be tabulated through a computer.

After roughly six months, he contacted multiple skating officials and was given the go-ahead to test his program.

Beard used a facility called a time-share, allowing him to access a mainframe computer through a phone line and began offering computerized results at lower level competitions in 1971. As a result, scores were relayed in 10 minutes instead of 45.

The program was so successful that, by 1972, it was ready for implementation at the national championships in Long Beach, Calif.

“There was some reluctance from officials who, I think, felt threatened by everything being computerized but it was very minor,” Beard said.

The scoring went off without a hitch and was an instant success. Early on in the process, the computer scoring was done in tandem with hand scoring to ensure accuracy but hand scoring was done away with entirely fairly quickly.

Soon, the computer system that Beard put into place was being used at all major U.S. figure skating events, including 12 regional tournaments and nationals.

In 1980, the U.S. hosted the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY and Beard made the trip as an accountant.

The accommodations were far from luxurious as Beard was holed up in one of many makeshift trailers set up for officials.

“It was kind of like camping. We were all in this big field in upstate New York and the temperature was five degrees,” Beard said.

But there were plenty of benefits to being at the event. Aside from being on-hand to witness and work at the biggest figure skating event in the world, Beard also had access to the rink for hockey games and was in attendance during the Miracle on Ice team's magical run by the U.S. hockey team.

“Everyone would die for an opportunity like that. It was definitely a highlight,” Beard said.

By the time personal computers were widely available in the 80s, all skating events were electronically configuring scores. But Beard's contributions to the sport weren't finished.

He continued to be involved in programming as technology and operating systems evolved and, in 1991, Beard was instrumental in developing a way to display live scoring on the Jumbotron at competitions.

This dramatically changed the way that audiences, both live and at home, experienced figure skating events.

Beard is now retired from his job as an engineer for Honeywell but he is still very active in the skating community, continuing to serve as an accountant at events.

He recently returned from his induction ceremony, held in Boston during this year's U.S. National competition and was humbled by the award.

“To have this reception and be rubbing elbows with Olympic champions is very humbling,” Beard said.

He remains a tremendous fan of the sport as well and is eagerly anticipating next month's Olympics.

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