Ref to Rio: Jean Reilly

Jean Reilly has seen many regattas in her 30 years with the sport, and now she’s up for her biggest one yet—the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Whether rowing in a boat or chasing one as a referee, her dedication to rowing runs deep.

During Reilly’s time at UCLA, she brought home national championship titles both as an athlete and as a IMG_4487coach. Following her retirement from coaching, Jean became a USRowing referee and an international FISA umpire, acting as chief referee for many large-scale domestic regattas. On the international stage, Jean has represented the United States for 15 years as a FISA umpire.


On being selected to umpire in Rio.

For referees, being selected to umpire the Olympic Games is like winning the Nobel Prize. You are one of 20 in the world selected. I learned of the selection while I was in line at Starbucks for my grande quad Americano.

What made you want to become a referee?

After retiring as an athlete and coach, I wanted to stay involved and give back to the sport that gave so much to me. I challenge every elite athlete and every coach to seriously look at becoming a referee. The growth in our sport is demanding an increase in the number of referees. Lean in. I know I would want you following my race.

Advice for young referees?

Remember that you are there to provide the athletes with the safest and most fair experience possible. Have fun while you are doing it.

Favorite referee memory.

I had the honor of following the women’s eight final at the 2007 World Rowing Championships in Munich, Germany. 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 hear Mary’s voice during the last 500 as Romania was surging back, 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. Extreme quiet, followed by every launch driver pulling his or her personal camera out to capture the moment. Everyone on the water knew that an exceptional race had just taken place and that a shift in power and ownership of that event was real.

What are you looking forward to in Rio?

I am looking forward to providing athletes of the world a safe and fair field of play on which they can achieve their Olympic dream in the sport we love, working with dear friends on a distinguished jury of umpires, enjoying and learning everything I can about the Brazilian culture and impressive racing!

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