Matthew Pinsent- from Olympian to umpire
The jury at an international regatta is responsible for ensuring that the regatta is run in accordance with the World Rowing Federation, FISA, Rules of Racing. At the 2019 World Rowing Masters Regatta, the jury included Great Britain’s Sir Matthew Pinsent; winner of ten World Championship gold medals and four consecutive Olympic gold medals.
Pinsent retired from rowing in November 2004 following the Athens Olympic Games. He started thinking about umpiring soon after. Pinsent says the initial idea came from being a Henley (Royal Regatta) Steward and wanting to become a Henley umpire. He became a national umpire in Great Britain in 2005, achieving the multi-lane endorsement soon after, and passing his FISA umpires’ examination at the end of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“It is a fantastic way of staying in touch with the sport because I get to go to events – with a combination of umpiring and media duties,” says Pinsent. “It keeps you involved, keeps you current and allows you to put something back.”
Pinsent’s international rowing career spanned 17 years. Asked what his opinion of umpires was during that time, Pinsent says, “I only interacted with one umpire once”. That interaction turned out to be with Ronald Chen who is now the chair of the Masters Rowing Commission. They met again at the World Rowing Masters Regatta. Chen reminded Pinsent of this interaction at the masters regatta. Pinsent’s reply; “It was the only time I’ve ever put my hand up at the end of the race!”
The roles of the jury include starter, judge at the start, umpires, judges at the finish and members of the control commission.
“Control Commission is usually fantastic because it is the one where you’re really interacting with the athletes,” says Pinsent. “But here (at the masters regatta) it’s tough because you’ve got six to eight crews every three minutes so there’s a torrent of athletes coming past you all the time.”
Outside of his FISA Duties, Pinsent has also umpired at Henley Royal Regatta for almost a decade, and is on the panel of Umpires for the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race.
“The Boat Race is very challenging because it’s always on a knife edge. It is 17 minutes of racing which could unfold at any minute,” says Pinsent. “I love Henley because of the setting, there’s an element of high pressure – every now and then something will happen that you’re in control of - but there’s not a better platform to umpire from than following a race on one of those launches – that’s such a privilege.”
“Strangely enough,” says Pinsent. “I didn’t sign up for that! I certainly don’t stand up in the start tower and think ‘I wish I was out there!’ I’m not there yet, and I may never be.”