USA Swimming News

Monday, August 30, 2021

A First-Hand Look at Officiating the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020


Being at the Olympics is not just an honor for the athletes competing, it is an honor for any member who gets to be a part of the illustrious competition.

Multiple USA Swimming Officials were selected to stand behind the blocks or on the boat this summer at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, read about their experiences in their own words below! 

A Day in the Life of an Olympic Starter by: Denice Wepasnick
After 26 years of officiating at meets as a Starter, some at the highest levels domestically and internationally, USA Swimming put my name forward to be considered by FINA for the Tokyo Olympics. If selected, I would become the World Starter for the games, which is the Starter for all of the men’s events.

Officials from all over the world are selected for the games, but only one Starter. The selected women’s Starter is someone from the host country, so it totally boggles my mind that I was chosen as the men's starter!

After being delayed a year due to the pandemic, the Games were scheduled to be held under stringent COVID restrictions determined by the host country of Japan.

Officials were kept in quarantine for our entire stay, allowing only for travel to the venue and back to the hotel.  The venue was amazing, but stark reminders were everywhere that this would not be a normal Olympic Games. No one in the stands, no fans, no energy from thousands of spectators. The officials would be some of the only people to personally witness the feats of these incredibly talented athletes. I feel so privileged to have been a part of their journey and would like to think that I helped them to achieve what they accomplished.

A good start is paramount to an awesome race. The swimmers were completely focused when on the blocks, showing us how important this time on this stage was, and they did not want to push the envelope and possibly false start. My takeaway from this meet is how resilient these men and women are even through all the craziness of COVID, how kind and helpful the Tokyo citizens were, all while letting their national pride shine through. I am so honored to have been a part of these moments and to have had the chance to represent our country and the USA Swimming officials. It was such an awesome experience, one I will never forget.

A different Olympics, but Still Amazing by: Amy Hoppenrath
When I heard that I would represent our country as a deck official at the Tokyo Olympics, I never imagined the impact that COVID would have on the Games. The Games were not as any of us would have imagined, but nonetheless, the experience was an amazing one. I would like to share with you some moments from the Tokyo Olympics that I will never forget: 
Some say it was the best seat in the house, and it absolutely was when the race of a lifetime was in my lane.  However, there were many times when I had to say to myself, “Focus… Focus, don’t look at lane X.”   This was especially true when I was officiating in lane four while the USA Men’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay was in lane five and the South African official said, “Wow, that exchange was close.”
As Olympic and World Records were set, you expected the venue to erupt with noise. But at these Olympics it was reduced to the cheers of teammates, managers and coaches.
We witnessed first-hand some of the special moments of sportsmanship. Our 200m breaststrokers [Lilly King and Annie Lazor] congratulating the South African [Tatjana Schoenmaker] for breaking the world record; Caleb Dressel throwing his gold medal for the 4x100m freestyle relay to the preliminary swimmer [Brooks Curry] in the stands knowing that prelim swimmers would not receive their physical medals for a while; the NBC deck reporter talking to our women's relay team — sharing their splits and telling them they should be proud to have won the silver medal. Finally, I could not have been prouder of our team after the final relay when they carried the banner thanking Tokyo — what a classy gesture!
I was overwhelmed with texts, emails and social media posts wishing us well. I can’t tell you what it meant to me. Not lying, it brought a tear or two. Thank you so much – it truly meant a lot.
We heard, repeatedly, that the Japanese were not excited about the Olympics before we arrived. But we experienced only excitement and hospitality. Every night as we left the venue, there were volunteers lining the road, clapping, jumping up and down and waving to us. In the hotel, at the venue, and in the airport, the people were nothing but excited and supportive of the Games.  You cannot imagine the sheer glee they had when we handed them a USA Swimming Olympic pin. To them, this was a special treat! 
Thank you to USA Swimming for this opportunity – I am so grateful.  I also want to thank the current and past Officials' Committees and Program & Events Chairs (previously VP of Program Ops) for the thorough training that prepared me well for the Games. And lastly, I also want to send a big thank you to those who helped me through my journey to the Olympics. It was an honor to represent you at the Games.

2020 Olympic Games Marathon Swimming by: Matt Wilson
It was an honor to serve as an International Technical Official (ITO) for the Marathon Swimming events. It was amazing to be nominated, and when I found out I had been selected, I was floored. To be chosen each, National Governing Body, like USA Swimming, puts forward a nominee. FINA chooses one official from each of the five segments of the world (like the Olympic Rings): Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and the Americas. The other ITOs were from Australia, Portugal, China and Morocco.
Before we could leave for Tokyo, there was a lot of paperwork. Some of it was “normal” for an event like this, but much of it was Covid-related. We were required to have a negative PCR test no more than 96 hours before departure as well as another negative test no more than 72 hours out. Fortunately I had no issues getting the results back quickly and getting the forms completed.
The trip was largely uneventful. It’s about a 12.5-hour trip and the flight was not crowded (less than 60 passengers on a 787) due to the restrictions in Japan; most of the passengers were residents returning.

Upon arrival in Tokyo we were immediately taken to a testing area where we took an antigen saliva test. We had to wait until those results came back before we could go anywhere. I knew it could take anywhere from two to 12 hours for the process in the airport, with three-to-six hours considered typical.

After my negative test, I was able to receive my credentials, retrieve my bags and go through customs. It took three-and-a-half hours from the time we touched down to the time I arrived at my hotel. Each subsequent day we had to complete a questionnaire as well as have another negative saliva antigen test. Unfortunately with the quarantine restrictions in Japan, we weren’t allowed to do much that wasn’t associated with our events.
We met with the FINA Open Water Technical Committee (TOWSC) as well as the NTO’s, or national technical officials, representing the host country. After our meeting, we toured the facilities and spent time getting to know our hosts. The next day we had a dress rehearsal. This is primarily used for the various crews (television, timing, on-site announcing) to get an idea of how everything was going to flow the day of the event. With everything being televised, it’s important to get it done on time! Volunteers also swam a lap of the course to ensure the timing was working as expected at all the various checkpoints.
Both day’s start times were moved up to 6:30 a.m. JST to try and avoid the heat of the day. The water temperature taken each day prior to the race was 29 degrees Celsius, or around 84 degrees Fahrenheit. This was warmer than the athletes would have preferred, but was still under the maximum allowed of 31C, or around 88F. The air temperature at the start of each race was around 81F/27C, and the overall conditions were partly cloudy and humid. Several athletes wore cold vests, ice bags or cold towels to help keep their core temperatures cool prior to the start.
The athletes began checking in at 4:30 a.m., so we left our hotel at 3 a.m. This allowed us time at the venue to conduct our official’s meetings and help with any pre-race needs. Our hosts did a great job organizing everything with plenty of volunteers available for each step in the process. I had the chance to observe the check-in, nail/suit checks, numbering, transponder dispersal and feed station check-in.  Each was very efficiently handled with minimal, if any, wait involved. This allowed the athletes to spend as much time as possible concentrating on their upcoming races. All officials that were on the water for the races, except for the Chief Referee, were on their boats by 6 a.m. This ensured that everyone was in place well in advance of the start.
My role for the women’s race was to serve as the Turn No. 1 Judge. This meant I was responsible for 1) making sure all the athletes rounded the turn legally, and 2) making sure I had an accurate count of the athletes that had passed each time. After the last athlete had successfully rounded my turn, I radioed that information to the Chief Referee. As anyone who has been a turn judge at an open water event can attest, trying to accurately count a pack going through the turn all together is exciting and challenging all at the same time!

This information was also logged by the Chief Recorder. I tried to start counting the athletes prior to them getting to the turn, which then allowed me to observe them making the turn and look for possible infractions. Overall, the women’s race was tightly bunched, especially at the front with the lead group of seven women finishing within seven seconds of one another. There were three yellow flags given, but fortunately no red flags.
My role for the men’s race was to serve as the Chief Recorder. On race day, these responsibilities are very similar to those carried out by our Administrative Referees at Open Water events. I was responsible for ensuring officials had radios and paperwork needed for their roles. I also took care of the pre-race radio checks and doing a course check to ensure all turn judges, safety officers and course officers were in place and ready to go.

Once the race started, I was responsible for logging all pertinent radio information that was passed along, such as turn judges calling in swimmers passing their jurisdiction, infractions (if any) and withdrawals along with the time they occurred. In the case of infractions or withdrawals, I also informed the timing team. They included this information in their incident logs, which are included in the results reporting.

The men’s race spread out much more quickly, with the eventual (almost) wire-to-wire winner ahead by 10 seconds at the first checkpoint and eventually winning by over 25 seconds. We had two withdrawals, both of whom were immediately checked out by the medical team prior to them meeting up with their coaches.
After each race was complete and the Chief Referee had signed off on everything, we gathered for a debrief. During this meeting each of the key positions for the race (Referees, Safety Officers, Course Officer, Clerk of Course, Chief Timekeeper, Chief Finish Judge, Chief Recorder) provided their observations of the race, including any changes they suggested for subsequent races or learnings to pass along for future events.
Then…we were done! It was hard to believe that it was finished. The plane home featured athletes and team support staff from Track & Field, Gymnastics, Sailing, Women’s Soccer and Open Water Swimming. It was great to hear about their experiences and to see how excited they also were to be part of this incredible event!
Thanks again to everyone who provided me with the opportunity to be part of this event. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate being able to share this experience with athletes and officials from around the world!

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