Q&A with FISA Umpire Gunnar Magnusson

NTO Gunnar Magnusson at the 2018 World Rowing Master Regatta in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida.

16 November 2018

By Göran R Buckhorn

HTBS’s editor bumped into an old friend at the World Rowing Master Regatta in Florida earlier in September.

It was after I had walked through the boat park down to the water at the 2018 World Rowing Master Regatta in Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, I saw the familiar face belonging to Gunnar Magnusson. Both Gunnar and I started our rowing careers – mine insufficient on the water, at least – at Malmö Roddklubb in Malmö, Sweden. Gunnar then moved away, but we saw each other at Swedish and Danish rowing regattas, Gunnar acting as an umpire and I as club leader, regatta secretary or later as a reporter for the Swedish rowing magazine.

Gunnar rose in the ranks of umpirery and I was not surprised to see him at this southern spot in the USA. He was not wearing his usual FISA umpire blazer, instead he was dressed in a simple white T-shirt with black letters saying ‘NTO’ – National Technical Official, which is some kind of ‘volunteer’, who is working in different places around the regatta where qualified officials are needed, Gunnar told me. The regatta organisers had borrowed some FISA umpires, including Gunnar, to help run the regatta and not just have them follow each race in a launch.

On the day I met Gunnar, his station was by the dock for launching rented boats, where he checked off the crews who were embarking while also doing a safety check of their boats. ‘We are here to help and support the crews for their upcoming races,’ Gunnar said.

I was eager to chat with him about his many years as a FISA umpire, but Gunnar was busy with his task of the day, so we decided to correspond via e-mail at a later date.

So, the other day, Gunnar was kind enough to answer my questions that I sent him. 

HTBS: You began your rowing career at Malmö Roddklubb in Sweden. Which year was that?

GM: I started rowing in 1973, as a recreational rower and then became interested in competing.

Gunnar Magnusson just after coming in second at the Swedish Championships in the single sculls lightweight at Lake Munksjön in Jönköping in 1978. Photo: Peter Kauranen.

HTBS: What was your greatest success as a rower?

GM: That must be the two silver medals I took in the single sculls lightweight at the Swedish Championships in 1977 and 1978.

HTBS: When did you become an umpire and why?

GM: I got my national license in 1981. I moved from Malmö to Gothenburg, where I joined Mölndals Roddklubb. I had taken a coaching course, but the club already had plenty of coaches, so I wasn’t needed. I saw a flyer, an invitation to become an umpire, so I thought, why not?

HTBS: Which year did you become a FISA umpire? Was there a person you looked up to in the international corps of umpires, a mentor, who helped you during your first years on the international stage?

GM: I received my license as an international umpire in 1985, together with Mr Jan Börjesson. We were educated by Ingvar Ericsson in Gothenburg. Ericsson trained us two and two, so we were able to support each other during the exam. Then when you are ‘done’, you have the support of all the other international umpires in the community that exists.

HTBS: Which was your first regatta as an international umpire?

GM: It was the 1986 Scandinavian Open at Lake Årungen in Norway.

All the umpires at the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow. Gunnar Magnusson, standing at the far right, received the honour to umpire the last race of the regatta, the men’s eights.

HTBS: You have now been a FISA umpire for 33 years, which probably makes you one of those who have the longest career in the international corps of umpires. Does this mean that you participate at the largest and most prestigious regattas, the Olympic Games, World Championships, European Championships, etc?

GM: My FISA license number is low, 0993. There are only six of us with a three-digit number. And, yes, I umpired at all these regattas. There is a special system within the corps to work yourself up. A ‘fresh’ umpire is working through the international regattas and World Cups and gets feedback from the more experienced umpires. If the critique is good, the fresh umpire can apply to ‘higher’ competitions. It is then the FISA Umpiring Commission that selects the umpires for the World Cup and other regattas. I umpired my first Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. At the European Championships earlier this year, I umpired the last race of the regatta, the men’s eights race, which was a great privilege. The last race of a championship regatta is normally umpired by the person who has the lowest license number or is doing his or her last regatta.

HTBS: Do you feel there is a larger pressure on you as an umpire at the bigger regattas mentioned above than at the more ordinary international regattas?

GM: No, I don’t think there is a larger pressure, but the demands are greater, as you might expect, on those of us who umpire at a higher level.

HTBS: Do you still umpire at regattas in Sweden?

GM: Yes, of course, to have an international umpire license doesn’t give me a free pass on national regattas. To me, it’s an honour to serve at the home regattas.

FISA Umpire No. 0993.

HTBS: Please tell us a story from one of your regattas. GM: Oh, there are so many… However, there’s a nice memory from this year, at the second World Cup in Linz, Austria. A Para crew, a coxed four, that was heading up to the start, suddenly returned to the dock with a malfunction to one of the swirls, and by then the rowers were in complete despair that they would miss the start. We functionaries tried to calm them down, while we contacted the start to tell them what had happened. We told the crew to think positively. We solved the problem with the swirl and sent them off to the start. Afterwards, the crew were extremely happy and thanked us overwhelmingly!

HTBS: Do you have a favorite regatta that you always like to return to?

GM: Yes, the regatta in Sorø, Denmark. I go there every year. It’s a large regatta especially for youths and junior rowers. It’s a lot of work, but you help the young rowers and their leaders in a very relaxed way.

HTBS: How many more years do you expect to keep being an umpire at international regattas?

GM: My license as an international umpire expires when I turn 70, which is in 2022. As a matter of fact, we are seven umpires who will retire in 2022. I intend to go on until then, at least nationally, then we must wait and see…

HTBS: What advice would you like to give to a newly examined FISA umpire?

GM: Be responsive and keep an open mind.

HTBS: Thank you, Gunnar!

GM: You are welcome and thank you!

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