Jack Dryden |

The Secret Umpire: Reflections of an Olympic Umpire

What’s it like to umpire at an Olympics? In a special article ahead of Tokyo 2020, Jack Dryden talks to a former Olympic umpire to find out

The Olympics are the pinnacle to which many rowers aspire, but being part of the Games is equally the highest accolade for an umpire. To find out what it is really like to represent Britain on the international jury, our reporter caught up with a past Olympic umpire, speaking under strict anonymity.

Our Secret Umpire got their domestic licence back in 1979. However, it was some 13 years before they took the next step to qualify for multi-lane events, let alone considered seeking international selection!

“One of the things that I always used to thoroughly enjoy was the nice bendy river courses. For quite a long time, I thought much better to stick to that and not do multi-lane, but eventually I got my arm twisted! It was fairly soon after that I got nominated to do the World Rowing exam.”

Even once qualified with World Rowing, getting a chance to adjudicate at the Games is much harder than you might think. Competition to secure a jury place at any A-list international event is tough, let alone for the Olympics.

“There aren’t many events available. In every three World Cups, we might only get allocated a jury member for two. With over 20 World Rowing umpires in Britain, everybody has to go a few years between getting one of those A-List events.”

The Olympics, as my contact explains, is another matter altogether.


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