Officiating At The Tokyo Olympics - The Women's 10K Marathon Swim

Officiating At The Tokyo Olympics – The Women’s 10K Marathon Swim

Courtesy of WOWSA, Odaiba Marine Park, Tokyo Bay, Japan.

In the days leading to the 2016 Rio Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, a large Atlantic Ocean surge and storm tore the marathon swimming course apart on Copacabana Beach. The finish pontoon, starting pontoon, and feeding station were swept away or were lost and had to be replaced. In the frantic hours trying to reconstruct the Olympic course, the lane lines of the finish chute were not place exactly to specifications.

This would ultimately led to the most impactful call of Olympic marathon swimming history.

On the final stroke of the women’s Olympic 10K Marathon Swim at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, FINA Chief Referee John West saw Italy’s Rachele Bruni go under the water right in front of the finish pontoon and France’s Aurélie Muller above her [see photos above]. Muller and Bruni had been sprinting together, each fighting for a silver medal. With Muller on the outside and Bruni on the inside, Muller swam right into the large white buoy on her left side. West judged that Muller impeded Bruni – and was red carded. Muller immediately lost her Olympic medal, opening up the bronze medal position to hometown favorite Poliana Okimoto.

West’s disqualification call was immediate and was not overturned despite Team France’s official protest. The pressure on the Olympic referees is tremendous. They want to oversee a fair competition and are under the global microscope to assure that a fair race is called.

But with 25 athletes swimming around 28 turn buoys and feeding stations during a 7-loop race over a nearly 2-hour period, there are inevitable bumps and infractions,” explained Steven Munatones. “There are two essential rules in competitive marathon swimming: unsportsmanlike conduct and impeding. There are innumerable instances of bumping, scratching, pulling on legs or arms, cutting offveering into, tapping or touching, slapping, clipping, conking, swiping, whacking, pulling off on on goggles and swim caps, obstructing, interfering, pummeling, nudging, punching, kicking, elbowing, pushing, jostling, shoving, crowding, banging [against], smacking, pull-backsziplining, smashing into or pressing against another athlete or a turn buoy or feeding station.

Under those circumstances, making the right call within a split second over an intense two-hour period is extremely difficult. Referees can ask themselves, ‘Was that impeding intentional or unintentional?’ Who can really tell if a bump or elbow is truly a conscious act or an act of retribution, or simply an accident? The pressure on the officials and referees is tremendous – and no one wants to get a call wrong because that literally change who wins a medal or not.”

Similar to a channel crossing with one swimmer assisted by many support crew members and escorted by a pilot, there are always more volunteers helping to put together a marathon swim than the actual number of swimmers.

The 42 officials of the women’s Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay include the following individuals – and this total does not include photographers and videographers on media boats, cameramen on shore, kayakers on the water, various pilots, and other communications and logistics personnel and volunteers on shore and in the water:

25 Olympic 10K Marathon Swim Finalists:

1. Xin Xin (China)
2. Haley Anderson (USA)
3. Rachele Bruni (Italy)
4. Lara Grangeon (France)
5. Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil)
6. Ashley Twichell (USA)
7. Kareena Lee (Australia)
8. Finnia Wunram (Germany)
9. Leonie Beck (Germany)
10. Sharon van Rouwendaal (Netherlands)
11. Anna Olasz (Hungary) [shown above]
12. Paula Ruiz Bravo (Spain)
13. Kate Sanderson (Canada)
14. Alice Dearing (Great Britain)
15. Angelica Andre (Portugal) [shown below]
16. Cecilia Biagioli (Argentina)
17. Anastasia Kirpichnikova (Russian)
18. Samantha Arevalo (Ecuador)
19. Spela Perse (Slovenia)
20. Yumi Kida (Japan)
21. Michelle Weber (South Africa)
22. Paola Perez (Venezuela)
23. Krystyna Panchishko (Ukraine)
24. Li-Shan Chantal Liew (Singapore)
25. Souad Nefissa Cherouati (Algeria)

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Steven Munatones