Today, July 22, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games should have started. Among thousands of athletes and officials, two Europeans were looking forward to taking part in this event: Mariana Prins-Atanasova and Gianluca Magnani. Mariana and Gianluca are two experienced softball European Umpires appointed for Tokyo 2020.

Prins-Atanasova was looking forward to her first Olympic games: "My dream was to reach the highest level of umpiring – the Olympics. I realize that it would not have just happened: I had to make it happen."

She started umpiring in the 90s while playing softball in Bulgaria and became and ESF certified umpire in 2001. After four World Championships and one Olympic qualifier, she received the assignment for Tokyo 2020. Her comment on this 30 years journey is: "I worked for many years on my physical and mental conditions every day, so I knew when they asked me, I would be ready."

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus led the International Olympic Committee (IOL) to postpone the Olympic Games by one year, but Mariana comments: "The postponement was not a real surprise in these circumstances. I completely understand and agree with the decision."

One week ago, the IOL announced the new Olympic softball schedule for Tokyo 2020 Games, and Mariana is ready for it: "My preparation has not stopped at all. Even during the lockdown, I worked out every day to be ready for 2021."

While Mariana is getting ready to face her first Olympics, Gianluca Magnani is training to become the first softball umpire to ever be appointed to two Olympic Games.

Since he was seventeen, Gianluca umpired many games, but he names one in particular. "In these 34 years of career, the most special moment was during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. I was the chief umpire for the Bronze Game. Japan battled Australia for 12 innings: the game lasted 3 hours and twenty-three minutes. I did not realize how exhausted I was until after the game when I sat down. I gave everything I had on the field.

Magnani finds that the key to his long career has been the dedication for the game, "I gave myself time to understand the game of softball. At the beginning, I did not have expectations." Despite this, he still made time to study, train, and rest to have the right mental approach to the game: "It is okay to make mistakes, but these mistakes cannot be caused by tiredness."

2020 should have been the last softball season for Gianluca Magnani, but, when Tokyo 2020 softball umpires lists were confirmed for 2021, he decided to wait one more year to retire.

The two umpires have families supporting their softball careers. Mariana stated: "I would not have been able to follow and achieve my dreams without the support of my family. Being a mother, wife, and an umpire at the same time is a tough job. Thank you, André!"
Gianluca is also grateful to his wife Silvia and their four-year-old daughter Celeste: "Without their help and support, I could not have had these experiences. Before every game, Celeste tells me to behave!"

For the umpires that want to follow their steps, Gianluca and Mariana have some bits of advice: "Remember that no one is bigger than the game of softball itself, serve the game, be honest and humble. Always try to better yourself."
Both umpires commented that every game is a new game: "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgments."

/ Elda Ghilardi
WBCS, Sascha Schneider & Grega Valancic photos