Genevieve Lentz is an unassuming individual whose presence most times attracts people having officiated at big stages.

For more than a decade, Genevieve Lentz has been handling matches and she has continued to improve herself to becoming one of the two blue badge umpires in South Africa.

Despite being passionate about table tennis at tender age, her conduct on table tennis most times made some of her opponents to always give her the responsibilities of officiating. “I actually started playing table tennis early in life but most times I always ended up umpiring at league matches, I enjoyed it and therefore pursued getting myself qualified.

Explaining her passion in officiating, Genevieve Lentz said: “Besides getting to watch world class players up close and personal, I get the satisfaction that a game has been officiated to the best of my ability. I have been umpiring internationally for the past eleven years and I still get to learn and improve as an umpire. Since Table Tennis Rules are always evolving, it’s important to be in the know and practice.”

The trained teacher described officiating table tennis as unique. “Table Tennis is one of the fastest ball sports in the world, so you certainly need to keep your eye on the ball, this is exhilarating and exciting. Best part of it is that I get to officiate the sport that I love,” she said.

On how she was able to handle difficult matches, she said: “An umpire should possess presence, be alert in the match and have an umpiring aura. There’s no need to dominate the match because the match is not about the umpire. But players appreciate an umpire that is fair and one whom they can trust. Therefore, it is important for an umpire to be calm and simply apply the rules. I make sure that I am up to scratch with the rules and merely follow umpiring procedures when it comes to players misbehaving. In the most extreme cases, I would call in the referee. But I am proud to say that I have never had to call in the referee for any match yet. I also, treat every match with the same amount of focus and fairness, as I would when umpiring elite players.”

On whether it is necessary to be a player before shifting focus to umpiring, she said: “It is not necessary to be a player before going into officiating in table tennis because it is not a requirement to have been a player but I do think that it sharpens your umpiring skills. This helps tremendously when you are writing the umpiring exams, you are able to understand the questions better and visualise the scenario.”

Having officiated at big stages like Olympic Games, Genevieve Lentz said: It is every sportsman’s dream to reach the Olympic Games. As an official, I regarded it as the highest honour bestowed upon me to umpire on the greatest World Stage. It is definitely the reward, for years of umpiring.”

She admitted that being an umpire as enhance her in life. “As an umpire I have gained invaluable experience and growth as an umpire. I certainly umpire very different to when I started as a novice umpire. I definitely enjoy and treasure the friendships that I have built over the years with both players and other officials,” she added.

On whether the pedigree of players plays significant role in officiating, she said: “I treat every match with the same amount of focus and fairness as I would an elite match. All players deserve the same amount of commitment from the umpire. I would like to believe that I have an Umpiring Presence so I don’t easily get intimidated by elite players.”

Speaking on her greatest moment as an umpire, Genevieve Lentz said: “My greatest moment as an umpire was umpiring the Women’s Semi-Final match at the London Olympics. I never thought that I’d be selected for the Medal Matches. In fact, I was in complete shock when I was informed that I was officiating that match. I remember going back up to my hotel room being overwhelmed with a sea of emotions, feeling joy, pride and appreciative of my mentors throughout my umpiring career. Had someone told the 13-year old Genevieve that she would one day umpire at the Olympics, she’d probably glare with disbelief.”

Despite the good memory she had, she never hid her worst moment. “Ironically, my worst moment was also experienced at the London Olympics. I was allocated an older assistant for one of the very important matches, one that I never got to umpire with till that very match. Umpires tend to develop signs between each other to bring attention to an irregularity or illegal service. Since we never worked together before, it was difficult for me to decode what the assistant was trying to bring my attention to. I eventually give a service warning but I was highly agitated by the assistant because the assistant can give a warning or fault service too. At the end of the match, the assistant degraded me entirely stating that I was not a very good umpire and mentioning a specific umpire that was better than what I was. I literally, locked myself up in my hotel room and cried myself to sleep. I then spoke to my mentor about the match and came to the conclusion that the assistant was jealous of the fact that I was selected as the main umpire – being the younger.”

On why young people are not taking to umpiring, she said: “It is because the younger ones are still playing. Players can be very intimidating and therefore you won’t find the younger umpires keen to officiate. Older umpires have also built many friendships over the years and look forward to meeting each other at World Events. The younger ones are starting to adapt the same culture. There is definitely more younger umpires in table tennis than what there was 10 years ago. The ITTF has done well to develop young umpires to officiate at the Youth Olympics, since 2010.”