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POACHERS / GAMEKEEPERS

Peter Kennaugh
Second career: After winning two golds at the Commonwealth Shooting championships, Stewart Watterson switched to judging

Stuart’s second career

Love them or hate them, event referees/judges are a special breed; it would be anarchy without them, so stepping up to the mark requires a lot of mental toughness, commitment and dedication to fulfill such a role in the highest echelons of any sport.

This is characterised by Stewart Watterson’s second career as an official after his shooting prowess fell apart in Victoria, Canada, in 1994. What followed led him first job at the 2002 Games and then it was a case of upwards and upwards thereinafter.

The 1978 50m small-bore prone individual bronze medal winner takes up the story.

‘Things did not go well for me in 1994 in Victoria. In fact it was the worst performance of what was by then a 20 year span of competing internationally. I wondered whether that was the end of the road: too old and too long at it.

‘But I was persuaded the next year to go to India for the first Commonwealth Shooting Championships in Delhi. I decided to give it another go and as a result came away with two gold medals! If I knew why 1994 was the pits and 1995 was like all my birthdays happening together, I could make a fortune.

‘That's the way it worked out, though.

‘I won the 50m small-bore individual prone rifle event and, with Harry Creevy, won the 50m prone pairs - best results of my life. The Isle of Man finished seventh in the medal table, but when the euphoria died down, I started thinking about the future.

‘I was then in my mid-40s and 1994 had showed I couldn't be certain any more of producing satisfying performances. I had always kept at the back of my mind the hope I would recognise when it was time to stop - I didn't want to become one of those old blokes you see pottering around clubs frustrated as hell that they can't shoot as well as they used to - and I decided that was it.

‘At that age, with two Commonwealth gold medals in my pocket, I decided that was probably as good as it was going to get.

‘Since I enjoyed the sport and had friends all over the world, I didn't want to walk away from everything. I don't have the patience for serious coaching so I started in 1997 to train as a judge. It involved first of all qualifying for a national licence in rifle then, after gaining experience as an official, I applied for and passed the course to upgrade to an International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) 'B' (international) licence.

‘I then took the pistol course and added the pistol qualification to the licence, followed by the qualification to supervise electronic ranges (where paper targets are replaced by instant-score computerised systems). After further experience at international events, including the appointment as a jury member for the Manchester Games, I was eventually granted an upgrade to ISSF 'A' category, which is the ISSF's highest licence category.

‘In 2006 I was appointed chairman of the rifle jury for the Melbourne Games but since then have specialised in the scoring and results side of event administration, a process supervised by a separate body: the Classification Jury.

‘Since 2006 I have had regular appointments to classification juries at World Cups, European Championships, the 2010 Delhi Games, various other international events and in 2012 I was thrilled to be appointed the host country member of the Classification Jury for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.’

There was promotion for Stewart when he was elevated to the chairmanship of the classification jury for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Poacher turned gamekeeper

Steve Taylor

Senior service: Steve Taylor was in charge of the judges during the walking race at the Olympics

‘It's a stupid sport,’ snarled Steve Partington in 2002.

His frustration was all too evident after being disqualified from the 20km walk at the Manchester Games. He had collected three red cards and the chief judge had put an end to his race.

The laws of the discipline demand that the athlete's back toe cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched. Violation of this rule is known as loss of contact.

A rule also requires that the supporting leg must straighten from the point of contact with the ground and remain straightened until the body passes directly over it. These rules are judged by the human eye.

Athletes regularly lose contact for a few milliseconds per stride, which can be caught on film, but such a short flight phase is said to be undetectable to the human eye.

So who would want to get involved in such deciding the outcome of such contentious issues?

Step up Steve Taylor, one of a number of former Isle of Man Commonwealth Games representatives who have switched from being a competitor to a judge.

Steve, who walked for the Island in Victoria in 1994 alongside Partington, enjoys the cut and thrust of the international stage but has found that being a top class judge can have its decidedly difficult moments.

Here’s his take on the job that can produce heated controversy.

‘Having retired from competitive walking in 2001, my children became involved in the sport, and when my eldest son was disqualified in his first race in the UK, I realised that we couldn't send children away to compete if they were not aware of how they were performing technically, or to put it another way within the rules.

‘I was gutted at his disqualification and sought to take up judging; for at the time there were no active race walking judges in the Island.

‘So, when travelling to events, I would stand with the judges, shadowing them to gain experience. After passing the relevant European exams in Hungary in 2005, I was fast tracked to international level.

‘My aim was merely to achieve the pass mark but I surpassed my own expectations finishing second in the class behind a member of the IAAF race walking commission. I was invited to the next IAAF examination (the highest level) in Paris and again aimed for a pass but finished third overall.

‘However it is in the actual judging of races that we are really tested and not in the classroom. The hardest part has been having to disqualify people that I know very well, none more so than at the London Olympics when I had to disqualify top GB athlete Johanna Jackson and Ireland’s Colin Griffin, who has stayed in my home on several occasions.’

Steve was in Moscow for the World Championships in 2013 as chief judge, again in recognition of the good work he did at the Olympics. In 2014 he performed the same role at the European championships and has again been appointed to the international panel of judges for a four-year term.

His role has taken him all over the world and he’s officiated in Canada, Mexico, Ireland, France, Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Switzerland, Netherlands, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, Germany, South Africa, China and Japan.

And he’s not averse to promoting the Isle of Man on his travels. His suitcase always contains Manx produced gifts to distribute to the people he meets.

Curwen’s 1948 Olympic role

Colin Halsall

Back-up: Colin Halsall put something back in athletics when he turned timekeeper, working with hand held watches at the 2002 Games in Manchester in case of an electronic timing failure

Curwen Clague, the founding father of International Cycling Week and also the man behind the Island’s successful entry into the Commonwealth sporting fraternity, was one of the first locals to get involved in international sport at blazer-level in 1948.

Having been held in a German PoW camp for several long years, the man who would become editor of the IoM Examiner and the Island’s only sporting newspaper, the Green Final, was anxious to satiate his desire to be involved with sport at its highest level.

A keen cricketer with Cronkbourne, an excellent wordsmith and people person, Curwen, then 33, got the job of joint communications controller at the Games, his thoughts and senses always keenly focused on opportunities to promote the Island.

All ready ‘famous’ for Cycling Week, which pioneered the way for a radical new approach to the way the sport was conducted in Britain, Curwen networked extensively, making many positive connections that would come to serve the Island so well in years to come.

His judgment and sense of fair play could be relied upon and during his involvement with the Commonwealth Games he was a regular member of the jury of appeal for his beloved cycling events.

Currie in a hurry

He was not alone in seeking to widen his horizons and legendary and fully-qualified starter, Arthur Currie, who was the manager of the Island’s first Commonwealth Games team in 1958, will be well remembered by a generation of athletes and cyclists for his long white coat, navy blue blazer and starting pistol, particularly at Onchan Stadium.

Arthur was sanctioned to officiate at the 1961 Women’s World track championships at Onchan Stadium, another Curwen coup, and he was summoned at short notice to Edinburgh for the 1970 Commonwealth Games when the official starter for the cycling events was taken ill. Yet another Curwen ‘fix it’.

On duty in NZ

Miler Colin Maclachlan who represented the Island in Perth and later emigrated to New Zealand, acted as an athletics official at the 1974 Games in Christchurch.

Although not Manx born, Colin, whose father retired to Ballaterson Farm, Ballaugh, from Staffordshire in 1950, was the county’s one-mile champion when he was selected for the team.

Colin’s calling

Colin Halsall’s finger was very much on the button at the 2002 Games in Manchester. Although he never represented the Island as a competitor, the former middle distance runner, then 53, and a long time member of Manx Harriers, acted as a timekeeper at the men’s and women’s walks and the marathon.

Determined to put something back into the sport that had given him so much over the years, Colin, a mason, from Union Mills, took up the watch in 1992 and qualified sufficiently to be allowed to officiate at international events.

Colin and the other manual timekeepers provided back up in case the electronic devices went wrong.

Sadly, Joan Powell, such an integral part of Manx athletics and particularly walking for many years, did not see the fruits of her labours come to fruition after being appointed race director for the walking events in Manchester. She had spent the 18 months prior to her untimely death in January of that year making preparations for the events.