Jay Thomas: Olympic caliber passion
“I was driving my green truck on Broward Boulevard just east of University Drive when the phone call came. ‘Jay, you have been selected as a judge for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, August 5 to August 21.’
I felt my forehead sweat.
Me. Jay Thomas. Husband of 31 years, father of two, the Plantation guy who mows his own lawn and sometimes takes solo kayak trips in the Everglades. I am going to be an Olympic judge in swimming.
Being an Olympic judge is the top of the food chain for anyone who has been a swim official.
I get asked a lot about what I actually do as a judge. I basically focus on two things : Is the swimmer doing the turn at the wall correctly? Is the swimmer doing the stroke correctly? The judge focuses only on that. I watch strokes and turns and nothing else. I have done this thousands of times as a deck official.
I was the deck official in the lane where Michael Phelps broke the world record for the 400 individual medley (that means the race includes a 100 meter butterfly, 100 meter backstroke, 100 meter breaststroke, 100 meter freestyle). I saw only his stroke and his turns. It was only after that event that I found anything about the swimmer.
It all started for me in 1991 when our family first moved to Plantation and my daughters were both on swim teams at Plantation Aquatic Complex at 9141 SW 2nd Street. The kids’ swim meets always needed volunteer timers so I started that way. I got interested in the USA Swimming rules and stuck with it for 20 years. I got more involved and grew to love it. The reward has always been that I knew that I was contributing to an athlete’s dream.
I became a deck official in swim meets all over the world including the 2012 Olympic Trials and three NCAA Championships. I serve as part of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Board of Directors and work to certify open water swimming officials. I am chairman of the USA Swimming Rules and Regulations Committee.
The sport involves a lot of time away from home. What has made this possible for me is that my family has always supported my passion for doing this. They encourage me to follow my dream.
I will get an Olympic uniform and credentials and must go to Rio in the spring for an organizational meeting.
I became a volunteer at my kids’ swim meet just like lots of parents do. I never imagined back then that it would take me here.