La Jollan to umpire Olympic rowing in Rio

As the eyes of the world turn to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the coming weeks, the eyes of Bird Rock resident Jean Reilly will strictly be on the rowing teams, as she serves as an International Umpire during the games.

“It’s like the winning the Nobel Prize if you are referee,” Reilly said of being selected. “I look at it as an honor and privilege. I’ve been to Rio and (other Olympic games in some capacity), I love to see the culture and how they are going to weave that culture into the Games.”

Reilly reports for duty in Rio on Aug. 3, the Opening Ceremonies are Aug. 5 and the games continue through Aug. 21. In her Umpire role, Reilly said her job will be to keep the games fair and the athletes safe.

“We give the athletes the best race experience possible. As part of a team of Umpires, I work one of five positions on a shift. I may align the boats for a fair start, or call false starts if a crew jumps the line. I may start a race, or follow the competitors down the race course from my launch, making sure that there are no collisions between boats. If a competitor is thrown from the boat or the boat flips upside down, I make sure that the competitor surfaces and, if necessary, perform a rescue,” she said, via e-mail. “It is the Umpire’s job to anticipate where the problem will be and resolve it before it happens. If two boats are ready to tangle their oars together I make the quick decision to steer them apart and avoid the interference, or to stop the race. One of the Umpires on the team will validate the order in which the boats cross the finish line, and confirm that equipment is compliant with the rules.”

Laughing that she got the call that she had been chosen to Umpire the Games while in line at Starbucks, Reilly said she was chosen for her proven reputation of neutrality. “I have to be neutral, no matter what,” she said.

With a 30-year history in competing and refereeing rowing, Reilly has had time to see the sport through a neutral lens. “I ran track and swam in high school, but not well enough to earn a scholarship. But I had the opportunity to try rowing and I just loved it. I rowed my way to UCLA, where I later coached,” she said. After her college career, she said she would have “loved to have competed in the Olympics,” but her only opportunity would have been during the 1980 Olympics, which the United States boycotted as a political statement. “It just wasn’t in the cards for me, but you deal with what life throws at you.”

Following retirement from coaching, she became a U.S. Rowing Referee and International FISA Umpire, overseeing races across the United States and abroad. She acted as head referee for numerous regattas such as the U.S. National Team Trials and the San Diego Crew Classic. For the last 15 years, Reilly umpired internationally for the World Cup, World Masters Championships, the 2013 World University games in Russia and more.

During the 2007 World Championships in Munich, Reilly oversaw the Women’s Eight-plus final of the United States against Romania, and it gave her a memory that still gives her “goosebumps” she said. “To watch that race develop, to see the determination on the faces of the U.S. women as they kept their lead on Romania … to see the expressions and pain on the faces of the Romanian women in the last 100 meters as they realized they would not win, is something I will never forget,” she said. “Everyone on the water knew that an exceptional race had just taken place.”

The 2016 rowing Olympic events include eight men’s categories and six women’s categories. According to a history of rowing posted on “Rowing has been staged at all editions of the Olympic Games, except in 1896 in Athens. It was, however, on the program, but a stormy sea compelled the organizers to cancel the events. Women made their debut at the Games in 1976 in Montreal. The Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta marked the introduction of the lightweight events. Up to the 1960s, the USA dominated Olympic rowing. Then it was the turn of the Soviet Union, which in turn, gave up its place in the 1970s-’80s to the GDR (East Germany). These days, the reunified German team is among the best in the world.”

On the Web: