UTEP Economics Professor to Officiate U.S. Olympic Swim Trials

Jim Holcomb does not take himself too seriously, but he takes his responsibilities very seriously, whether in a classroom at The University of Texas at El Paso or as an official on a pool deck around the country.

That serious side will be on display June 25 through July 3, 2016, as Holcomb, Ph.D., associate professor of economics, helps officiate at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. This meet will decide which swimmers represent the United States at the XXXI Olympiad in August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This is the second time Holcomb, chairman of the USA Swimming National Officials Committee, will officiate at the trials. He served as a deck official in 2012. This year he will serve as a deck referee and video replay referee. As chair of the national committee, he is in charge of 25,000 U.S. swim officials.

The UTEP professor will be the lone El Pasoan among 60 or so hand-picked officials with the training and experience for the trials, which is a top event for U.S. swimmers and swim officials. He will work every morning and evening session but alternate work on the deck and in the replay booth.

“I’m pretty excited and humbled to be considered at that level,” said Holcomb, a swimming official since 1999 who has officiated at national meets for 14 years. “It’s the ultimate experience. There’s really nothing like it in the swimming community. It is quite a spectacle.”

Dan McAllen, USA Swimming vice president for program operations, said he has known Holcomb for about 15 years and described him as calm, fair, honest and deliberate, with “an unfailing sense of humor.”

McAllen referred to a favorite photo of Holcomb from a 2015 national officials meeting that had exceeded the audience’s attention span. He said the UTEP professor, in an effort to break the monotony, modeled a straw hat and pink sport coat that he said were to be part of their official uniform. Both were at least one size too small. McAllen said the act, which received a huge ovation, was so convincing that some officials thought the uniform presentation was legitimate.

“One of Jim’s best character traits is that he does not take himself too seriously,” McAllen said.

Holcomb was a three-sport athlete at El Paso’s Eastwood High School – track and field, wrestling and swimming. He became a swimming official in El Paso to give himself something to do between heats of his children’s competitions. His interest grew through the years to the point where he officiates about three national competitions per year as well as other meets at the local, regional and state levels.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from UTEP in 1979, and his master’s and doctorate in economics from Texas Tech and Texas A&M universities, respectively.  He began to teach at UTEP in 1985.

Among his students is Karla Savina, a master’s student in economics who expects to earn her degree in May 2017. The El Paso native has taken two courses with Holcomb, who is her thesis adviser.

Savina said she appreciates how he conducts a class with authority, but in a way that engages the class. The graduate student shook her head and smiled as she considered the paradox of her teacher’s work in economics and officiating. She said economists do not believe in absolutes, but sports officials must adhere to them.

“I think he’s awesome,” said Savina, who earned bachelor’s degrees in economics and finance from California State University, Long Beach, and a master’s in applied finance from Pepperdine University. “He knows economics. He owns it.”

Holcomb said one of his future goals is to be selected as a U.S. official at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. He has applied to become an international official and hopes to be added to the list of FINA officials by early 2017. FINA is the International Swimming Federation.

As for the 2016 swim trials, he knows he will have butterflies because of his new role and additional duties.

“As an official, you just can’t screw up at this level,” he said … and he was serious.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications