By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, November 7, 2019
It was during the 2008 Olympic Trials – the first in Omaha – that Clark Hammond saw his time as a swim official come full circle.
Like other officials, he had watched swimmers from a young age progress and reach the pinnacle of our sport – including one Margaret Hoelzer, who swam in Huntsville, Ala., which isn’t far from his hometown of Birmingham.
He had officiated Hoelzer’s meets since she was a 10-and-under swimmer, and here she was at the 2008 Trials as a favorite to make the team – especially after having won gold in the 200 backstroke the previous year at FINA World Championships.
“At Olympic Trials, I was the official at the start end in Margaret’s lane,” said Hammond, a lawyer by trade who is a former competitive swimmer and got involved with officiating through his children’s meets. “I believe the event was the 200 backstroke. Not only did she win, as I recall she broke a world record. I remember how gratifying it was to watch her from being an age grouper to the pinnacle of our sport on that day.”
Hammond said this example is one of the reasons he and everyone he knows spends the time and effort learning and growing as officials so that the athletes can reach their dreams – and they get a front row seat to watch it all unfold.
Following is a Q&A with Hammond, who has been officiating for more than 30 years, is returning to Omaha next summer to officiate his fourth Olympic Trials – this time as the Meet Referee.
Q: What was your first National-level meet as an officiant?
A: My first National level meet was the 1996 Junior National Championships held in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Almost every year since 1996, I have worked at least one national level meet, and in some years, I worked two.
Q: How were you selected to be an official at next year's Trials?
A: I was chosen by the Chair of the National Officials Committee and the Chair of the Program and Events Committee. Having been the former chair of the National officials committee, I assume that my name was shared with others within the swimming community – senior USA Swimming staff, senior coaches and possibly others so they could have input if they so desired before a final decision was made.
Q: What are the responsibilities/duties of the Meet Referee?
A: The Meet Referee is like a captain of a large ship. He or she is the leader and has overall responsibility for the conduct of the meet. A swim meet, like the large ship, requires the skills of many people to run smoothly. The Meet Referee is the leader that organizes this team to run a safe and fair competition.
Q: Have you been a Trials official before? If not, have you been to Trials before as a spectator, coach or participant?
A: In 2008, I was invited to officiate as a stroke and turn official. In 2012, I was a deck referee and an underwater referee. The deck referee is the person who runs the session (controls the flow of heats); supervises and directs the ‘wetdeck’ officials (Chief Judge, Starter, and Stroke and Turn Judge). The underwater referee is the person who is basically video replay and reviews a disqualification. In 2016, I was the lead chief judge. In that role, I was responsible for supervising and directing all of the stroke and turn officials and assisting the deck referees in processing disqualifications and other aspects of the competition.
Q: I imagine this is quite an honor to be chosen to officiate at Trials?
A: Officiating at Trials is likely the highest honor any of us will achieve. It is a result of many years of dedication and a recognition that we have exhibited the type of aptitude and attitude that is necessary to fulfill this role. A key component is that we believe the benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer and at the same time we seek to ensure that the competition is conducted so that every athlete is provided fair and equitable conditions of competition.
Q: Are you a former swimmer yourself? Have kids who swam?
A: I grew up swimming in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. I played water polo during college on a club team. All three of my children swam until the age of 11 or 12, but my daughter was the only one to swim competitively year-round after she was 12 years old.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about Trials?
A: Watching old friends striving to once again be able to compete at the Olympics and the up and comers establishing themselves as the future of our sport. At every Trials, there is a passing of the torch from the previous Olympians to the new. It is a bittersweet experience as you watch athletes you have had the pleasure watching for years just fall short of their goal and at the same time it is exciting to see the next generation step up to meet the challenge.