At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Great Britain’s Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh became the first married couple to win an Olympic gold medal as part of the same team since 1920, when Cyril and Dorothy Wright achieved the feat in the sailing competition.
The hockey competition at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo will also feature a married couple, although neither Jackie Tomlinson or her husband David will be chasing medals or even holding a hockey stick, for that matter. Well, not on the field of play, at least.
In September of 2019, Jackie and David – who are both teachers at Palmerston North Boys High School – were named on the officials list for Tokyo 2020, Jackie in the role of Technical Official and David on the umpire’s panel. It will be a first Olympic Games for either of the Tomlinson duo, ensuring that there is double excitement about the prospect of their trip to Japan later this year.
We caught up with Jackie and David – who has umpired 97 international matches, just three games short of earning his Golden Whistle – to talk about their appointment as well as their hopes and ambitions for the year ahead.
Jackie and David, thank you so much for joining us. We think you might be the first married couple to be appointed to an Olympic hockey competition! Starting with you, Jackie, can you tell us about your journey as an official?
Jackie Tomlinson: “It’s been pretty short, really! I started in 2013 at an Oceania Cup event in New Zealand as an appointed judge, then did a few tournaments in New Zealand and Australia. I got appointed to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, before that I did the World League Final here in Auckland. At that stage they were discussing the possible launch of the Pro League, and I was sitting there thinking that it was going to be really cool for all these people next year, something to look forward to. And then suddenly I am on the Pro League panel, which was a bit of a shock for me - it felt like I’d come from nowhere, and it’s been a bit the same for the Olympics as well. I went to the [Ready, Steady, Tokyo] test event in 2019 not expecting anything to come out of it, it was just a cool opportunity, and it was great to work with different officials. Then I opened my emails at some ridiculous time in the morning and said to David, ‘I think you’d better check your emails!’ For me, it was a completely out of the blue appointment, really – it wasn’t even on my radar.”
You must be incredibly excited. Clearly there has been the delay by one year, but just the prospect of going to Tokyo later on this year must be amazing for you.
Jackie: “Yes, definitely. And to share it with David, that is just [wonderful]. Really looking forward to it.”
And David, what does Tokyo selection mean to you? The thought of going there, especially after the last year that we have had?
David Tomlinson: “It’s still quite surreal. I was lucky enough to go to the World Cup [in 2018], and the Olympics is always a dream. But it’s always something that is a little bit out of our control, in terms of performance. We do the best we can and hope for the best. To get appointed – Jackie found out about 2.30 in the morning, then she gave me the elbow and said ‘hey, check your email!’ – we still had a lot of water to go under the bridge, including two terms with the teaching, the Pro League and a trip to Belgium which was on the cards. And then it got called off, but for it to still be there, it’s really exciting. The vibe around everyone, it’s strange [due to the situation], but everybody is in the same boat. It’s still really exciting, an amazing opportunity.”
As teachers, how do you combine this with your working life? Are your bosses quite understanding to your sporting needs?
David: “Our boss at the school is phenomenal. Part of their ethos is that they really like to see their staff succeeding, and for our boys who we teach to see staff succeeding. They have been incredibly supportive and allowed us both to take some really amazing opportunities. There is certainly give and take, and we’ve both had to turn down some pretty amazing opportunities – we can’t say yes to everything as we are teachers and have to work for a living, but they are fantastic.”
As we know, 2020 was a very difficult year for all sorts of reasons. What are your hopes for 2021?
Jackie: “To get locked back into international hockey would be amazing. We are lucky here in New Zealand, as we had some domestic hockey last year. But to get some Pro League matches happening again would be amazing. Let’s hope Tokyo goes ahead, as we are really looking forward to catching up with all the people there. It could be an interesting experience.”
David: “I feel the same. As Jackie said, we are really fortunate being in New Zealand, where life has to a degree carried on. We’ve had sport. It has been different. If we can get some international games back up and running, and particularly for us, being able to travel or teams come to us, we’ll see what happens after that. I think like most people, we’ve missed the contact with people and just being involved, so we are really looking forward to being part of that again.”