Dan Apol is one of eight U.S. referees on the FIVB Beach World Tour circuit and the one American on the 2016 Olympic volleyball referee delegation.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Dan Apol will be making his second appearance at an Olympic Games as one of the beach volleyball referees. The self-proclaimed beach bum will spend over 60 days in Brazil this season, officiating not only beach volleyball at the Olympics, but sitting volleyball during the Paralympics.
His path to the highest level of beach volleyball isn't an easy one. Like professional athletes, referees have success markers to attain in order to advance and reach that elite status.
"The referee delegates make a report from every World Tour event we do and all of that gets compiled into a master scheme for who moves on for the next year and who doesn't," Apol said.
When fans watch beach volleyball, rarely noticed are the referees unless there is a close judgement call. The Federation of International Volleyball (FIVB) works hard to ensure matches run smoothly and a major component in providing that for the athletes on the court, and the fans, is placing the best equipped staff on the sand.
"For FIVB officials, English is the required language," Apol explained. "More and more it's being driven that we should expand and learn some sort of Latin language. Portuguese or Spanish, Italian even. It's to our benefit to learn Spanish or a Latin language for us to get along. The majority are English as a second language."
Next time you watch an FIVB event, listen at the beginning of the match when they introduce the officials. The international pool of referees is just as impressive as the countries playing in the competition. Dan being an English native speaker has it a little easier, but he's still picked up new languages.
"Other referees have to put in a lot more work than I do. I try to put in work to learn and do the same amount of work they're doing. I've been doing a lot of Portuguese. This is my ninth time to Brazil so it helps. If I sit in the room and everyone is speaking another language, I feel left out. I should know and it helps."
"I remember I went to Italy for my first trip out of the United States. It was mind boggling. Now traveling is not so hard once you figure out airports and signs in different languages. When I first started it was crazy."
Adding in a second language isn't the only marker though. Officiating the best athletes means referees have to be in top shape as well.
"This year we had a referee seminar for the first time ever. The first two days, before the Rio Grand Slam, was the most thorough medical evaluation we've had. They did an endurance test on a bicycle, heart scans, eye and hearing tests that were very detailed. We also had a sports psychologist that came in and did four sessions with us about relaxation and breathing techniques. Every once in a while we do get stressed out. A session like that is something I've never done and it was a cool experience."
The Rio Grand Slam not only served as the first referee seminar, but as a chance for the entire Olympic referee delegation to work together.
"All of the referees at the Rio Grand Slam are the Olympic referees. Sixteen from 15 different countries, two from Brazil. They brought us all together to have a seminar for the first time and get everyone together and working as a team.
"We'll meet again in Fortaleza, Brazil, with half of us and the other half in Hamburg, Germany," Apol continued. "Then we'll all see each other in Rio again when we come back on July 31st."
Apol started his refereeing career almost two decades ago but says it wasn't until 2010 when it became successful for him.
Recounting when he found out that he was chosen for the 2016 Olympics, Apol said he "had a good idea based on the World Tour schedule, which came out first. I knew it was a pretty good chance. The suspense for a month waiting for that letter to come was killing me."
And compared to when he was chosen for the 2012 London Games, "the first time was a surprise. This time, it was not as much of a surprise but waiting to find out was maybe worse than the first time. The suspense, the hoping months ahead of time and waiting for that call was suspenseful. My wife had gotten up to get to work and I was still in bed and checked my email. I got it and she was downstairs, I yelled and she came running up. She knew what it was."
The selection procedure is decided by the FIVB and goes through the same process they use as the World Tour.
"Any successes or failures you have on the World Tour impact your selection for the Olympics for sure. The Olympic referee selection is always a process in the back of everyone's mind. I'm sure there are already thoughts for the Tokyo Olympics and who they want to put in. It depends on our performance throughout those years.
"This is the 2016 Olympics, the 2015 assignments were for sure geared towards that. The decision for the Olympics gets made in October or November the year before. The year before's assignments are critical for our performance to peak."
In the U.S. there are eight international beach referees who work the beach World Tour. When events are held in the United States, all eight American officials will work the event, but only a few have a travel schedule as intensive as Apol's.
"Probably two or three of us get the majority of the assignments. The rest get one or two with the addition of the events that are held in the U.S.
Again like the athletes, FIVB beach referees travel a lot during the World Tour.
"I'll be in Brazil for 66 days this summer. I'll also be a referee at the Paralympics. I'll go home for two weeks, do one college tournament then come back. This summer, before October, I'll have 66 days in Brazil. Then two weeks in Europe as well."
After the Olympics though, his travel and the World Tour continue.
"I'll go straight from Rio to the Long Beach Grand Slam and not home until August 30th. It'll be 30 straight days away from home. It's going to be a long summer."
But it's all worth it for the man who knew back in 2000 that he could make something out of this career. A job that surprised him with one Olympic Games and legitimized it with a second.
"The opportunity to experience it again. The Olympics, strange things happen. People's human spirit develops. You see things that don't happen in all the sports, not just beach volleyball. It's the best sporting event there is."