Tuesday, June 18, 2024

From back injuries to major hockey events, Sarah Wilson on being top FIH umpire

Sarah Wilson will officiate at her third Olympic Games in Paris next summer, but her rise to become one of the world’s leading officials was kick-started by a series of debilitating back injuries which forced the promising young hockey player to hang up her stick.

The rising star was in the Scotland under-21 set-up when she was forced into early retirement after physio and rehab failed to eradicate the problem.

She played for Edinburgh club MIM at the time and George Guy, the East District Hockey convener, and an established official in the men’s game, suggested that she picked up a whistle.

The rest is history. The Edinburgh-born whistler has now officiated at two Olympics – Rio and Tokyo – five European Championships, including the recent A Division at Monchengladbach, and two Comonwealth Games.

She was appointed to Birmingham in 2022 but could not officiate at the event as her 13-month-old son Oliver was born.

Sarah, who is an Assistant Principal Teacher of Physical Education at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, is delighted with the appointment and the Games in late July and August next year is in the school holidays.

Looking back, Sarah confirmed that she first picked up a hockey stick aged five when her mother, Norma, sawed one of her sticks in half and put a grip on it. Her dad, Gordon, also played and she used to knock the ball around the back garden of the family home in Edinburgh’s Fairmilehead area.

Sarah joined MIM and progressed through the age groups into under-16, under-18 and under 21 and into the national set-up but she said: “My back became really painful and there was no way I could continue playing.

“George Guy asked if I wanted to umpire and he helped me through the badges. Norrie Urquhart was Scottish Hockey’s officials convener and he helped me progress onto the European scene.

“From there I started to pick up appointments and years later I’ve officiated at all major events. However, it is tough staying at the top. You have to be physically fit, really fit, and you must make sure you do strength and conditioning courses.

“You can get dropped from the panel if you are not performing so you have to be on top of your game all the time. Remember, other people want to officiate at major events and you have to maintain a top level.

Sarah Wilson umpires at the 2022 Women’s Hockey World Cup PIC: Worldsportpics

“There is a lot of pressure but officiating at top level is an honour and I want to stay there as long as I can.” 

Also travelling to Paris is Martin Madden and it will also be a third Olympics appearance the Scot.

In Rio both umpired a number of critical matches, including the bronze medal games and Wilson was then awarded the FIH Umpire of the Year award and Madden became the 39th man to receive the FIH Golden Whistle.

In Tokyo, Sarah umpired the women’s gold medal final between The Netherlands and Argentina. Martin umpired matches between New Zealand and India, Argentina and Spain, Argentina and New Zealand, Russia and Germany, Japan and Spain, and Spain and New Zealand.

At the recent EuroHockey Championships, Sarah umpired the men’s final on and Martin Madden umpired the women’s final, and was the reserve for the men’s final.

Anne Wotherspoon, Scotland’s international appointments committee representative, said: “This is another great achievement for both Sarah and Martin to be appointed to a third Olympic Games and to have two umpires appointed, once again, is terrific news for Scotland.  

“Having represented Scotland in Tokyo and Rio, both have continued to go from strength-to-strength in their umpiring careers. I am very proud that all their hard work and perseverance has paid off in being appointed to the Olympics in Paris.”

She added: “Sarah and Martin are fantastic role models for our umpires and officials on our pathway, and credit also needs to go to all the volunteers that have helped support Sarah and Martin to reach their potential.”

Total Hockey

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2 COMMENTS

  1. We’re so lucky and proud to have Sarah and Martin umpiring at the pinnacle of our sport. I know George Guy is so proud of Sarah.

  2. I’m incredibly proud of everything Sarah has achieved but not surprised. She saw her injury as just another challenge and set of in a different direction. She’s not only a brilliant Umpire she’s also a lovely person.

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