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Swimming technical official Helen Akers gets call-up for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Swim England News

The Olympic Games are seen as the pinnacle of sport … and it’s the dream of many to represent their country at Tokyo 2020.

And while British aquatic athletes will be training hard with the goal of qualifying for next year’s Games, there is already one person who has secured her place on the plane to Tokyo.

Swim England and British Swimming official Helen Akers has been appointed as one of seven European International Technical Officials for the swimming competition, which is due to take place at the Olympic Aquatics Centre from 25 July to 2 August.

After 30 years of officiating, Helen has travelled around the world, attending the 2018 FINA World Swimming Championships in Hangzhou, China, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and many other European events.

It will be her first Olympic Games as an official, although she did volunteer at London 2012.

Here, Helen reveals how she was selected, what she is looking forward to the most and what it means to be an Olympic official.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

“I’m really rather excited. I worked at London 2012 as a Games Maker and helped look after the international officials.

“Obviously, this time, I’ll be on the other side of the fence and one of the international officials, so I’m really looking forward to it.

“I had applied to go onto the FINA list in order to be an official at 2012, but I didn’t get selected.

“I still really wanted to be involved so that’s why I applied to be a Games Maker.

“I’ve always wanted to officiate at an Olympic Games but it is something that you absolutely can’t guarantee that it’s ever going to happen.

“So few people get to do it. I’m really looking forward to it – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I’m just coming to the end of my seventh year on the FINA list, which is how you start to get international appointments.

“I think my international experience will help, but obviously the Olympics is a much bigger stage.

“The way that British Swimming and Swim England run their events, it’s very much along the same lines of the international events in terms of the organisation, the parading and the protocols that we follow.

“When we go to international events, we try and feed that back down, which I think actually makes it quite easy for British officials because they’re already operating in that way.”

How proud are you?

“It’s a funny one, I’m not very good at shouting about what I do.

“Obviously, I’ve been an official a long time so you could say it’s been a bit of a long-term project.

“I am proud of it and what I’ve achieved but it’s what I do.

“I look at it like an athlete. The highlight of an athlete’s career is to go to the Olympic Games and it’s pretty much the same for an official – that’s how I see it.

“I was just really pleased when I received the email because the nominations were done back in July so you start to think that ship has sailed and it’s not going to happen.

“So when I got it, I let my husband know because I’m away quite a bit so he has to pick up a lot of the slack. I had to show him that actually it is worth it.

“He’s really proud of me. He’s told all his friends and said ‘make sure you put it on Facebook’.

“Everybody’s just really pleased because I’ve been around a long time and they see it the same way I do – it’s the pinnacle. Everybody I’ve spoken to has been really pleased for me so that’s been nice.

Getting into officiating and helping the next generation

“I was a swimmer myself and I was just really lucky that I had somebody in my club who was already involved in officiating.

“They basically mentored me through the process and helped me make the most of the opportunities that were out there.

“I was volunteering to officiate at national events as soon as I was able and there’s an element of being in the right place at the right time.

“But I was just really lucky that there was somebody in my club that took me under their wing and helped smoothed the path, as it were.

“It’s really good seeing all the officials coming through and I want to be able to give other people the same opportunities that I’ve had.

“I came through the sport as a swimmer and I couldn’t have done that without those officials who were around then. It’s about keeping the cycle going and making sure that the next generation are going to get the same opportunities.

Never been to Japan

“I’ve never been to Japan before so there isn’t anything I’m not looking forward to. You just have to make the most of everything.

“I’m hoping that we get a little bit of free time. Although it’s lovely to go and you travel to some nice places, sometimes when you’re at competitions you don’t always get a lot of free time to look around.

“I do like to get out and about in the breaks and get a feel for where I am, because you won’t get those opportunities again to go to some of those places.

“Hopefully we will get a bit of time to see the sights of Tokyo if nothing else.

Busy year lined up

“I’m really excited now – I just hope I don’t run out of steam before I get to July.

“It’s a busy year next year. I’ve got the European Juniors in Aberdeen, then we’ve got the normal British Swimming and Swim England events as well as regional, county and club events.

“My club have their own open meet in January so I’ll be there.

“For the Olympics, we are set to arrive on the 22 July and swimming starts on the 25 July.

“There will be some rehearsals, briefings, training, walk-throughs, that sort of thing, in the first couple of days.

“Then swimming finishes on the 2 August and we fly home the next day.

“Under the current policy you can only do two terms on FINA. That’s eight years meaning next year will be my last year that I can do international events.

“But I’ll continue officiating and possibly move into a little bit more of the event management side of it and carry on trying to help other officials make the most of the same opportunities I’ve been able to have”

If you’ve been inspired by Helen’s story, courses are held for officials across all aquatic disciplines. You can find out more here.

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