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NEWS FEATURE German female ref Panther living out dream calling men's games By Florian Luetticke, dpa

Europe
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Anne Panther is full of excitement at the basketball competition in Rio. The German is not running up and down the court on the hunt for a gold medal. Instead, Panther is just the fourth female referee to call men‘s games at the Olympics.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Anne Panther doesn‘t let her excitement of being at the Rio Olympics show on the court. The German is all business as she referees the men‘s basketball game between Lithuania and Nigeria. After Lithuania‘s 89-80 victory, the 34-year-old heads off the court in full business mode without a show of emotion.

But more than an hour after the final buzzer has sounded, Panther walks around the catacombs of the basketball venue with a wide grin.

"What can I say? It‘s indescribable," Panther said about her Olympic experience up to this point. "If you ask me now, I can understand more and more why it‘s the dream of every athlete."

Panther is the fourth female referee to call a men‘s game at the Olympics - American Dee Kantner being the first at Sydney 2000, followed by Elisabeth Sisk of the United States at Athens 2004 and France‘s Chantal Julien at Beijing 2008.

Panther refereed the Lithuania v Nigeria game along with fellow German Robert Lottermoser and Canadian Stephen Seibel. And Panther was praised for her performance.

"She was perfect in the game," Lithuania guard Renaldas Seibutis said. "She was precise and didn‘t hesitate."

When asked if it makes a difference if a man or woman is refereeing him, Seibutis said: "Not at all. As long as it‘s a good referee."

Panther has proven herself as an excellent referee back home in Germany, where she has been calling men‘s top flight Bundesliga games since 2009 - as the only female referee in the league.

"The men‘s games are naturally faster and just more athletic and physical," Panther said about the differences between the men‘s and women‘s games.

Panther, who plays for the women‘s fourth division Regionalliga club USC Heidelberg in Germany, is pulling double duty in Rio as she is refereeing women‘s games as well.

"In the end, you try not to do anything different, but the contact between the players is just different. And you evaluate that a bit differently, for sure," Panther said.

Panther and the other referees in Rio had an eight-day training camp to prepare for the Olympics. But besides daily workouts and game assignments, there is some extra time to take in the atmosphere of the Games.

"A couple pins, key chains, the mascots, T-shirts, of course, that is a must," Panther joked about her haul from the huge Olympics shop in the Olympic Park.

Another highlight for Panther was serving with the technical delegation on the sidelines for the United States v Venezuela game. Would the crowning achievement be standing on the court with the NBA stars and refereeing a game?

"Of course I would be lying if I said no. But I am happy about any game, regardless of what it is," Panther said.

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