With long flights ahead of me, I chose to travel down to London the day before I was due to travel to Council Bluffs (yes, I had to look on the map as well). On waking on the morning of my flight, I was greeted with an email and a text to say my flight to Denver had been cancelled as there was a problem with the aircraft. Swift action was needed so I made my way to the United Airlines assistance desk. Having discussed with them what my options were, I was put on standby for the two flights to Chicago the same day. If I managed to get a seat on one of these flights, my flight to Omaha would be organised by the time I landed in Chicago.
I checked in for the first of these flights but was concerned that I may not have my case at the other end so I put a change of clothes in my hand luggage just in case. (Always a wise thing to do.) I headed straight for the gate and made myself known to the staff there as I was number one on the reserve list. Unfortunately, the flight was already full so I was hoping for a no show but no such luck. When I knew this, I headed for the gate for the second Chicago flight.
Still number one on the standby list, things were not looking promising and I was bracing myself for the fact that I may not be heading to the US Open after all, but then my name was announced over the tannoy… a seat! It was a middle seat, but I was thankful of small mercies.
On arrival in Chicago, the information came up on my airline app for my flight to Omaha – I was still on a standby list but was told the flight is never full so would have no issues catching the flight. On arrival in Chicago, I had to collect my hold luggage and check it in again – I was convinced it would not be on the carousel given that I was on standby… But it was, so with my case checked in again, I went to my gate and got the second leg of my flight.
True to their word, I got a seat on the short internal flight to Omaha. If I was surprised my bag made it to Chicago with me, imagine my amazement when I arrived in Omaha and found that my luggage made it through with me. This was in stark contrast to five of the other umpires who all started the event without their cases. (Fortunately, they had all put clothes in their hand luggage as well.)
With the stress of the cancelled flights over, it was reassuring to arrive at the hotel and get to my room, especially as I didn’t arrive at the hotel until 00.15 hrs. At this point, the order of the day was sleep. I could unpack my case in the morning.
Some of us headed across to the hall on the Monday morning, and were shocked at the state of the arena. The set-up was a long way behind where it should have been. We were asked by the referee team if we wouldn’t mind helping out with the set-up to make sure everything was ready for play starting on the Tuesday so we all spent a couple of hours setting up A boards, service height devices, and other things. The usual BWF briefing happened on Monday evening with all umpires present. It was also when we all had an opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.
Play started on Tuesday morning with some qualifying matches on two courts. In the afternoon, we moved to four courts for the first round of the men’s and women’s doubles. We were a group of fifteen umpires so we worked as groups of four and one group of three.
On the Wednesday morning, I woke to a storm front passing over Omaha and Council Bluffs. I found out later in the day from one of the local umpires that there had actually been a small tornado as well… the moral to this story is to do your research before you travel – Omaha is in tornado alley lol. On a happier note, I had received an email from BWF informing me that I had been selected to officiate at the Olympic games in Paris 2024. Yippee 😊.
The only English players in the tournament were Rohan Midha in men’s singles and Rory Easton and Zac Russ in men’s doubles. Rohan was knocked out in the qualifying rounds losing to Kashyap Parupalli. Rory and Zac were all knocked out on Thursday. Despite a spirited performance, they lost 21-16, 21-15 to a Chinese Taipei pair.
On the Friday, myself and one other BWF umpire (Jorg Heiskel from Germany) were asked to talk through the IRS process by the referee team with some of the PanAm umpires who had not used it before as they had been selected to work on court 1 for the semi-finals. We had a discussion with them, talking about the process and the things to be aware of, and then we set some simulations up on the court to allow them to practice. When everybody was happy, we decided to do a few more simulations before play started on the Saturday just to make sure they were all comfortable with the process. There were a couple of vocabulary mistakes with the IRS challenges on the Saturday, but given they hadn’t done it before and they were under the added pressure of working with microphones for the first time, they didn’t get flustered.
I was selected to umpire the last match of the day which was the men’s singles final between Kunlavut Vitidsarn (THA) and Li Shi Feng (CHN) with Gennifer Aguirre (MEX) as my service judge. Li Shi Feng won the match 21-15, 21-18.
When play had finished, and with most of the umpires not travelling home until Monday, eleven of us went out for a meal to a chophouse followed by a visit to a speak-easy hidden behind a false set of shelves in a liquor store. If you are ever in Omaha, look out for “Wicked Rabbit”. A fantastic speak-easy with friendly staff and a crazy array of cocktails… look out for their fire cocktails. When we arrived back at the hotel, many of us said our fond farewells as transport for most was early in the morning.
Not for me though, my transport to the airport was not until 1pm which gave me plenty of time to have breakfast and pack my case which proved to be a mammoth task. I hadn’t thought about trying to fit everything in my case when I’d bought three different bottles of local gin to bring home. It was a tight squeeze but I finally managed it, with less than half a kilo of weight to spare.
Fortunately, my return flight on the Monday was running to schedule. I finally arrived home on Tuesday evening having caught the train back from London to home.