26.06.2015, Brussels: Elena Eskina became the 38th umpire to reach the golden whistle milestone – 100 international games – when she umpired Argentina against China in the semi-final stage of the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Valencia.
We were delighted to catch up with Elena on her return home following a busy tournament and as she prepares for the Unibet EuroHockey Championships in August.
Elena, what is your background in hockey, when did the passion for the game begin? I started to play hockey at the age of 9. Before that I played some different sports-volleyball, table tennis, I did gymnastics, swimming and also music. Thanks to my first coach, I fell in love with hockey and stopped everything, except hockey! I played for the U-21 Russian team in European Championship 1992 and 1996. I was selected for the national team for European Nations 1999, but I realised that I was pregnant it didn’t take long to make a decision to step away from the National team for that event, I am so proud to have my 15 year old son and I love being a Mum! It was difficult to come back as a Mum and play so I stopped playing in 2000.
So how did umpiring come about? In 2002 I was invited to umpire our National Championship and because I was at home with my little son taking care of him I decided why not?! I can’t say it was interesting to me that time and I was not going to continue. But Raisa Filimonova-my first teacher, who was responsible for umpiring in Russia that time, saw potential in me and decided to send me to Japan for 6-Nations Tournament. So I said yes, even though I did not have a clue what umpiring was really about. And my first international match was Germany v Australia. That was the match I would never forget. The final score 2-2, all the goals were scored in my end of the pitch! My first college was Jean Duncan from Scotland who did her best to help me in my first international experience. Now remembering that match I can’t imagine how it looked like from the side, I hope I did well!
That Tournament in Japan made my future. There was a great team of umpires there and I felt like I knew those people for a long time. I enjoyed it so much and I understood that umpiring could be interesting, challenging and enjoyable!
So you started out as a young Umpire from Russia, with Europe changing all the time, what were the biggest barriers? The biggest barriers? When you meet a problem you think it’s a barrier. When you’ve passed it, you forget it was there! I like to travel, I don’t like to be stationery. For sure it would be great to travel without visas all over the world but that’s not the point. To split the time for family, work and hockey that’s difficult, but you understand better then the importance of each part of your life. I have been really lucky to have my families support, especially my Mum and Mum-in law, I know they are proud of me and that makes it extra special.
What are your ‘stand out’ Tournaments? I can say I always was ambitious and sometimes it was difficult for me. I had some tournaments when I was not happy with myself and when I thought I was ready to give up and stop but thanks to my best friend, who always found the way to stop my hysterics and support me, I didn’t. Now I understand it was just a step forward and sometimes you need to be down to be able to go up again.
One of my stand out events was the FIH Champions Challenge 2007 in Baku- my first FIH appointment. That was my introduction to World Level hockey. At that time we didn’t have many options to watch best of hockey on TV or internet. So I didn’t have any idea of the level. I remember my first match there New Zealand v England , I was very nervous, but I hope I did a good job… But really nothing is quite like an Olympics. I had the first game of the hockey tournament in London 2012. I remember I was so nervous, especially when the match started. I said to myself: Look, it’s just another hockey game, you did it before, you can do this…
At the Olympics you feel like a small part of something great! When you are there you feel like you want to be there and it doesn’t matter in which role…sportsman, official, volunteer or spectator… just to be there and feel the happiness!
Clearly the game has sped up so much in the past few years – what’s your secret on staying fit? My secret is to be able to say on top of my laziness! Especially when the tournament is close you don’t have another choice. I am responsible for my own preparation, I have to be fit for myself, for the teams, and for representing hockey. I can only say I do my fitness plan myself and the biggest part in it is running and then more running.
What advice would you have to a young Russian umpire? Learn English, that’s what helped me a lot. I was happy during my career to meet many people who wanted to and did help me, but it was essential to be able to understand them. Now the young umpires have more options to improve than we had, first of all the internet and social media. There are some great programmes for the development of umpires, especially the EHF’s UDP, that along with being able to watch top hockey on-line and use the clips which are available on Dartfish.
The Video Umpire is something that is now clearly a big part of International hockey, what are your thoughts on how it contributes to the game? I like the video umpire. It has changed a lot the presentation of hockey. Yes, it’s difficult when you have a team referral ‘against you’. It’s not easy in a packed stadium for everyone to see that you may have made a mistake but I think that’s the right thing for the game. I am sure umpires have more respect from players now, getting the right decision is the most important thing.
And now with 100 caps ‘under your belt’ – what are your next targets? My goal for the future is to be able to continue my umpiring. That is one of the most important parts of my life now. I’d like to go to the Olympics in Rio.. But also I want to be able to share my experiences with young umpires, and I am happy to know they want to learn from me, too…
Thanks Elena for a very frank and open interview, it has always been a pleasure to have you as part of any EuroHockey team, before we finish did you want to add anything? I want to thank all my friends and colleagues on and off the pitch, who have made my umpiring life so enjoyable. All my umpires managers for their support and advice, which has helped me to improve… I can say for the umpires it is also very important to be a team and feel part of the team, support of your colleagues… and special thanks to my “teachers” – Raisa Filimonova, Tatiana Kaltypan, Yolanda Brada, Louise Knipe and Renee Tikka Cohen. Without you I wouldn’t be who I am.
Pictured: Main, Leandro Negre presenting Elena with here Golden Whistle and Marijke Fleuren and Elena enjoying that special moment in Valencia.