By Steven Munatones, Open Water Source
HUNTINGTON BEACH, California, May 11. WHEN a national championship event occurs, the athletes are in the spotlight.
With the swimmers at the center of the championship universe, coaches, parents, volunteers, and officials also play key roles in making sure everything goes according to plan so athletic dreams may be realized in a well-dressed venue under a sense of fair play.
And that is where volunteers like Chip Carrigan of Cincinnati are invaluable.
The passionate open water leader was deservedly selected to be men's and women's Championship Referee for the 2013 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships to be held in Castaic Lake in Southern California next week.
He has served as an official in four national open water swimming championship events and the 2011 Pan American Games as well as coordinated and organized the Ohio Open Water Swimming Championships, Kentucky Open Water Swimming Championships, and West Virginia Open Water Swimming Championships. Carrigan provides a perspective from the position of a head official at a major championship event:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How were you selected to be the Head Referee for this competition?
Chip Carrigan: Clark Hammond, Chairman of the USA Swimming Officials Committee, informed me. I was very excited. [And he is well-prepared.] My club, Cincinnati Aquatics Club, owns multiple sets of yellow flags and red flags since we organize open water swims in our area. We made an investment in having the correct equipment.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you feel any pressure?
Chip Carrigan: I think about it, but the answer is no. We are there to protect the swimmers. Disqualifications occur, but I view the role of officials to solve issues that occur before the race, during the race, or after the race.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: There are going to be times in the races where the field is bunched up very tightly. How do you maintain order in those situations?
Chip Carrigan: In United States at the national championhips, Americans are very polite swimmers and this helps. We whistle to get their attention in a pack and to signal to them separate. At this level, everything is resolved with whistles.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you try to see what goes in under the water, as well as what you can see above the water?
Chip Carrigan: At the national championships where I have served, I have never been able to see more than a few inches under the surface of the water, so I cannot recall that checking out what goes on under the water was an option.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When an athlete yells out loud during a race, does this catch your attention?
Chip Carrigan: Yes. At the first level, we try to resolve the issue between the swimmers. We try to separate them by making hand signals and blowing our whistles. There are times of repeated offenses where we use our arms to indicate separation. Even when we blow a whistle, we write the number of the swimmer on a whiteboard so they know who we are watching. Of course, contact is part of the sport, whether it is unintentional or intentional. But mostly swimmers clear up any issues on their own.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When a transponder falls off an athlete's wrist, what do the officials do?
Chip Carrigan: We carry spare transponders on the 2 referee's boats. These boats separate into the lead pack and trailing pack. If the swimmers lose their transponder, then we help them with the transponder. In my experience, it happens at every national championships. It is probably no different than it happens at our Ohio State Championships. We had used transponders with Velcro, and we would lose 6 sets out of every race.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Please explain the mechanics and protocols when an athlete is yellow carded?
Chip Carrigan: Yellow cards are issued due to a number of intentional interference with another athlete after we already tried to attempt to separate them. We also issue yellow cards when the athletes fail to be in compliance with the referee's instructions. When a yellow card is warranted, I blow the whistle and the assistant in the boat has the whiteboard and marker and list of swimmers. The assistant writes the number of the swimmer on the whiteboard and signals to the swimmer that they have received a yellow card. We then writes down the number of the swimmer on the list on the boat, and radio in that information to the other boats and the Clerk of Course as well as the administrative referee onshore. John Julian will serve as my administrative referee. The assistant holds up the whiteboard for 15 seconds or until the swimmers acknowledges the yellow card.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Please explain the mechanics and protocols when an athlete is red carded?
Chip Carrigan: At the time of the second yellow card, the swimmer is disqualified. They must immediately exit the competition course.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you explain yellow flags and red flags to athletes or coaches after the race is over?
Chip Carrigan: Yes, we make sure we are there for the athletes. I am happy to be explain what happened in precise detail and what infraction occurred to the athlete, coach, and parent.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Is there a process of appeal?
Chip Carrigan: Yes, there is a meet committee. If there is any controversy, I encourage everyone to appeal the disqualification. It is very important to resolve the issue at the venue. If we – the officials – did not follow the rules, there has to be balance out there because we must protect the swimmers' interests at all times.