How to be a World & Olympic Umpire

 

Dr Gill Clarke MBE

On the face of it this sounds an exotic way of spending your leisure time with appointments over the last 12 years to such places as Cuba, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand all far away from the pressures of the Research Assessment Exercise, Ofsted Inspections, Teaching Quality Assessment and of course lecturing at Southampton University. It’s not quite so exotic however when you are pounding the streets in the middle of winter in the pouring rain and spending part of Christmas Eve and Boxing Day at the gym training.

So, how did I get to be selected as one of the 14 women umpires for the Sydney Olympics? To be in the top flight of umpires on the World and Olympic panel, of which there are currently only 18 women, requires that an umpire, when assessed on every international match they do scores over 8 out of 10. Factors included in the assessment are such things as control, signals, and co-operation with the other umpire on the pitch and fitness. Failure to maintain this score means that an umpire can be removed from the panel of Umpires. I have always scored well on these various aspects except that my signals have always been regarded as somewhat different! Still, the players have always appeared to understand them.

Sydney was actually my third Olympics and this was a unique achievement as no British woman had ever umpired at three Games. Thus, it seemed a long time since my first Olympics in Barcelona in 1992.

 

When I was selected for the Games in Atlanta in 1996 I was certainly wiser and older and, I knew that this was my opportunity to establish myself on the Olympic and World stage. Prior to Atlanta I had umpired my first World Cup final ( Dublin , 1994), a match I started but never finished due to a torn calf muscle - another unique happening!

 

Training for Atlanta was vastly different to Barcelona and Sydney since the heat and humidity required a specific acclimatisation programme. For me, part of this involved spending increasing time in a local sauna walking and resting, until the final stages of my preparations required that I walk constantly for 60 minutes which is no easy task in a tiny sauna at my local leisure centre. Involvement in this acclimatisation programme also necessitated the monitoring and measuring of most bodily functions including fluid output to be measured in a handy jug! Using and buying a jug will never be quite the same again. Indeed, this very jug (washed out) has been much used for watering the plants in my office. The Atlanta Games went well and I was appointed to umpire the gold medal match between Australia and Korea . I struggled to overcome my nerves at the responsibility of this but overcame them and the match was a thrilling encounter, which Australia won.

1997 was memorable, as when in Berlin I umpired the final of the Champions Trophy (a competition featuring the top 6 teams in the world) I became the first English woman to umpire 100 Internationals. In 1998 I went to the World Cup in Utrecht , Holland , again I was selected to umpire the final - and this time I completed the match. The year closed on a high with the award of an MBE from the Queen for ‘services to hockey and women’s hockey’.

This September I arrived in Sydney early to get over the stresses and strains of the flight ready for the pressures of the 2 weeks of the Olympic hockey competition knowing too that it would be my final tournament as I had decided to retire at what I hoped was the top. There is an age limit of 48 but I was well inside that. Hockey was second only to athletics in terms of demands for tickets; the stadium seated over 15,000 and just about every day was a sell out. The crowds certainly added to the pressure and the noisy atmosphere. Increasingly, there is more at stake, be it for the players from some countries big pensions for life and new cars, for coaches the power to name their salary but for umpires only … personal satisfaction at a job well done. Television makes it all an instant global experience - there is no hiding place, with cameras and microphones everywhere including in the goal. Hockey although it has yet to embrace the 3 rd umpire unlike some other sports now has the possibility of the instant replay, since for the first time in Olympic hockey history the big TV screen was alongside the pitch. This was scary as everyone could now see the fouls that you had missed! Fortunately, they did not replay the action when it was deemed too contentious.

 

Sydney was a wonderful experience and a great tournament to go out on, finishing as I did by umpiring the Bronze medal match between Holland and Spain , a bruising physical encounter for the teams that Holland won. The volunteers at the Olympic venues were helpful, transport actually arrived on time and didn’t get lost unlike Atlanta , and the food was good. The opening and closing ceremonies were awesome to watch and I had the pleasure of bumping into Royalty and Politicians at the Games. So next Olympics who knows what my role will be most likely I will be an armchair spectator.

Dr Gill Clarke MBE

Retired World and Olympic Umpire

To See a history of Gill's achievements in umpiring CLICK HERE

or to see Gill's top 10 Tips CLICK HERE

 

Our thanks to Gill for a very interesting and informative article, and for the talk she gave at one of our Open Evenings. We wish her well in whatever she now decides to do with her Saturday afternoons.

Good luck Gill from all at A.C.W.H.U.A.

 

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