Juraj Mokry received the wonderful news on Jan. 27. He will never forget that date, or where he was.

That’s when the International Federation of Volleyball sent his formal invite to Rio de Janeiro via e-mail, the Slovakian’s first Olympics.

An associate professor of pharmacology who speaks six languages, the 41-year-old Mokry is the first Olympic volleyball referee from Slovakia since the 1988 Seoul Games.

“It’s a big honor,” Mokry said. It was Mokry’s friend and mentor, Vladimir Kovalik, who worked the Olympics in South Korea that year.

Mokry, who played at the highest level of juniors back home before ankle injuries forced him out, worked with Kovalik after he first began as a referee in 1994.

On Saturday he worked with alongside good friend and Italian referee Fabrizio Pasquali for the big Poland-Russia five-setter Saturday won by the defending champion Russians.

“Imagine the atmosphere that we’re feeling on the court,” Pasquali said. “I had a really good feeling also with Juraj. We’ve refereed together many times. It’s fantastic refereeing such kind of matches between the Olympic champions and the world champions.”

They have done some 30 matches together in international competition, even the last-chance Olympic qualifier in Tokyo two months ago.

Mokry takes care in his conscientious approach with the scoring table, making eye contact, signaling with his hands, communicating in a thoughtful way to make the matches go that much more smoothly.

It’s all about respect.

“We try to create a particular atmosphere around the arena staff and also the teams obviously not friendly but to respect ourselves,” he said.

For the referees, there’s no such thing as competition for who draws the medal matches. They all are so appreciative of the assignment and find out the night before what their next day’s game will be.

Mokry and 48-year-old Pasquali realize they might not have another match together in Rio.

“We are a team, so we support each other,” Mokry said. “For me, it was important to whistle the first match and after that we said, ‘Now we are Olympians.’ To participate is more important than to win. That’s the Olympic motto. Any match I receive it’s a great honor for me. Of course some medal match would be like a cherry on the cream.”