KZN umpire for Olympic hockey

2008-02-02 00:00

WHILE the South African men’s team were battling it out with the world’s top four squads at the Five Nations tournament in Potchefstroom recently, there was reason to celebrate on another tack for the host country’s hockey supporters.

Durban’s Gary Simmonds had just been selected as an umpire for the Olympic Games men’s hockey tournament in Beijing, China in August.

He joins the Pretoria-based world number one men’s hockey umpire John Wright on the panel of 15 who will officiate in Beijing.

What makes his appointment so special is that not two months ago he was a rank outsider. At the last minute, he was called up to umpire at the Champions Trophy tournament that took place in Malaysia in early December last year.

“My Olympic appointment was a direct result of the Champions Trophy tournament, where I was lucky enough to sneak in the back door … when the tournament was moved from Lahore in Pakistan to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for security reasons,” Simmonds told Weekend Witness yesterday.

“Two extra umpires were needed as host nation Malaysia received a tournament slot and Great Britain were invited to ensure an even number of teams. With a bit of luck things worked out … and I was fortunate enough to be chosen to umpire the final.”

Simmonds said an Olympic appointment is something every umpire in world hockey aspires to.

The Durban wielder of the whistle says it is a tribute to the standards set for local umpires by their tournament tutors and graders, the SA umpire managers.

“The likes of Toby Sutcliffe, Gavin Cullen, Dennis Perkins, Doug Neilson and more recently Clive McMurray are the reason that when we travel overseas, we can comfortably hold our own,” said Simmonds.

Dennis Perkins, Cape-based international umpires manager, said that Simmonds’s most important attribute is his rapport with the players. “What makes an umpire reach Olympic standards? The main requirements are the ability to give 100% concentration for the full duration of a game and … management skills. In my opinion Gary has all of these … ”

A further feather in the SA cap is the spot of world number one women’s umpire Marelize de Klerk, of Cape Town, in the female division of the Olympic event, while the good work of Johannesburg-based umpiring manager Mary Parr has contributed to Gauteng’s Michelle Joubert and Lesley Nunn knocking on that elite door. Other officials headed for Beijing are Steve Jaspan, Sheila Brown, Deon Nel, Corinne Cornelius, Ayden Shrives and Riaan Osman.

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