Germany's Ute Conen was known throughout the world of international hockey and, with her winning smile, vivacious energy and warm personality, was a breath of fresh air wherever she turned up with her whistle. So it was with a collective feeling of great sadness and regret that the hockey world learned of Ute’s death last week after a long illness, shortly before her 54th birthday.
She attended three Olympic Games (Sydney, Athens and Beijing), three World Cups and gained a total of 178 international umpiring caps earned over a range of events that included Junior World Cups, Champions Trophy tournaments, European Club Championships, 4-Nations events and a wide range of test matches.
Ute earned her golden whistle in July 2002 – the only female German umpire to have received the award to date – but it was presented a year later at the KT Cup, held in Seoul, Korea, in 2003. She continued to umpire at the highest level for another five years, ending her international umpiring career at the Beijing Olympics in the role of video umpire.
One of her umpiring colleagues and close friends was Renee Cohen, herself a well-known figure on the umpiring circuit. Speaking about Ute, Renee said: “On the night of 8 to 9 August my great friend for 25 years and my roomie for more than 10 years at various major international tournaments, Ute Conen passed away.
“Slowly but surely it is sinking in and I realise that our meeting at her home only five weeks ago was our final gathering on earth. We started our joint careers, exactly 25 years ago in 1992 at the Under-21 European nations in Edinburgh and from that moment on we were inseparable, umpiring together at the Junior World Cup in Barcelona, many Champion Trophies, two European Nations, two World Cups, two Olympic Games and many more events. Thank you Ute for being a great friend and a wonderful support at so many tournaments.”
FIH CEO Jason McCracken, who was part of the umpiring team with Ute at the Athens Olympics, added: “Ute was an exceptional person inside the Hockey Family and she will be sorely missed. Her performances in three Olympic Games were outstanding. She was a joy to have at a tournament.”
The affable German, said in an interview posted on the DHB website, that her favourite singer was Barbara Streisand. For Renee and Ute’s other friends from the international umpiring community and the wider hockey family, the words from 'The Way We Were' will have a special resonance: “It’s the laughter, we will remember. Whenever we remember, the way we were.”