Monday, January 20, 2014

Thoughts From a USAT Official...

I'm coming up on 3 years as a USAT Official.  For anyone that doesn't know what that means, I'll briefly explain. Individuals can go through training provided by USA Triathlon to become an official, a referee if you will, for triathlon (and other multisport) events.  The officials are the people you often see in transition or out on course wearing a red or black and white stripe (denotes head referee) shirt and a badge.  We are the ones that hand out the penalties everyone is so fond of.  More information can be found here if you're interested.  Since it's the start to a new season, I thought I might share some thoughts and reminders with everyone.  And maybe some info will be helpful, and maybe some will make you laugh, and maybe some will make you think.

First off, we (USAT Officials) do not work for the race director.  The race directors hire certified officials as independent contractors.  It's the best way to maintain the integrity of the rules that all USAT sanctioned races must abide by.  These rules ensure a fair and safe event for all.  Though we are hired, we are pretty close to volunteers.  We do not do this job for the money, and certainly not for the recognition (I can vouch that it's typically a negative recognition, if any).  We do it because we love this sport!  And hope that we can keep the participants safe and everyone can enjoy a fair race.  Personally, I hate giving out penalties.  But, I try to think of it as teaching.  Maybe that person didn't know the rule and at least they have this opportunity to learn before it's a race that’s even more important to them.

Much like the set up crew and volunteers, we arrive before transition opens.  That means sometimes arriving to the race at 4:30am.  Yes, I have had 2:30am wake up calls.  And we stay until the awards ceremony. That's a long day for any race, but particularly long when you're working a half or full iron distance race.  And for the Head Ref, the hours put into a race go far beyond that of race day.  We are working with the race director weeks prior to race day, and we are filling out reports and communicating with athletes long after the day is over. We battle the cold/heat, rain/snow, and sometimes just deplorable conditions…
Warning on hotel card key

Shower stall in my hotel

 I'm not looking for sympathy here, far from.  I still go out to races with my referee gear on and look at all the anxious athletes and really feel for them.  Especially when something is not going their way.  The point of all this is hopefully to have some people read it and realize we are not power-hungry, unfeeling robots out there.  We get absolutely NO "reward" for giving penalties.  Actually, it makes more work.  We don't have contests to see who can hand out the most drafting calls in a day.  If anything, I cringe when I see people breaking rules because 99% of the time, they are surprised to find out they got a penalty.  Which leads me to my next point...

KNOW THE RULES! It is your job as a participant to know what you are allowed and not allowed to do before, during, and after the race.  I'm not going to list them all here, but you can read all about it before your next race here.  You can also click on the "Most Common Rule Violations" tab for a quick reminder if you need. For safety reasons and in hopes of not disqualifying as many people this year, I'd like to remind everyone of a couple things:

  1. Chin straps must be buckled at all times when on a bicycle. THIS INCLUDES TRANSITION!  The penalty is disqualification!
  2.  Headphones are not allowed anywhere on course!
  3.  Arguing with an official can easily lead to Unsportsman-like Conduct, with a penalty of disqualification.  You are always welcome to ask questions about your penalty, however, I would suggest addressing the official similar to how you would address a judge in court (without the "Your Honor" part).  Simply, be respectful.
  4.  Drafting: This is a zone 7 meters (~22 ft.) long and 2 meters (~6.5 ft.) wide.  That means, stay out of the zone of any other competitor!  This would include riding side by side.  Do not get that close to the cyclist in front of you unless you can pass them in 15 seconds.

There is so much more, but I'm not trying to bore everyone here.  Just hoping that everyone realizes we are just people too.  We have families, most of us are athletes ourselves, and we are not out to get anyone.  And it's often a physically and mentally draining job. So come say hello, ask your questions, maybe even say thanks.  It's not exactly a glamorous job, even though I do make those khakis and stripe shirt look pretty good.  And everyone loves a chick in a motorcycle helmet, right?

See you on the race course, athletes!  Have an enjoyable and safe 2014 tri season!


  1. Thank you for what you do - as a newbie- it is comforting to see you out there!

  2. To: Jessica Van Orden #Triathlete
    From: Darin Armstrong #TeamLIVESTRONG

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    Just a quick email to ask if you would be interested in a ‘mutual’ following on twitter that will benefit you. (Ex: I am providing 'Anytime’ #RT's / #Marketing support for all #Ironman #Triathletes #Cyclists #UltraRunners #Marathoners #FitnessProfessionals who follow me on Twitter and have something important they want mentioned for support…Over 42K folks at your access. '5x #Ironman #Champion & #Professional #Triathlete @HeatherGollnick follows & is one of our biggest supporters as well as hundreds of other Professional Triathletes.'). 'I am currently following you now and am awaiting your follow-back...'

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