Volume 92, Issue 18

Friday, October 2, 1998

homing in


Downing gets the runners started on their way

By Brett MacCannell
Gazette Writer

When's the last time you were scrutinized by 35,000 race fans? How about looking Donovan Bailey in the eye to tell him the rules of the game? Well, Jackie Downing has done it all.

For the last 23 years she has managed to stay involved in track and field through officiating and has some amazing stories to tell.

If you were under a rock the last couple years, you missed Michael Johnson challenging Donovan Bailey to a race, in which the winner laid stakes to the world's fastest man. Those who couldn't attend may have watched it on television and seen the former Mustang.

Downing was there, standing at the starting line with a gun, receiving full attention from both runners. The reason – she was the official starter for the race. It's something she has done to stay involved in track for a number of years.

A Western grad in 1970, Downing was once blazing the track herself, be it hurdles or scorching down the 100 metre. In fact she was the London city champion during her high school career. If women's track had been included in the CIAU loop during her time she would have likely claimed much higher honours.

Downing finished her Western days with an honours degree in psychology, which "finished with 9 people in my class," she joked. Her degree has also helped her considerably with her career.

"Not a day goes by without using something I learned in school." She now finds employment with London Life, as a community relations coordinator.

Downing is also the chair of the National Officials Committee and has been for the last six years. During her experience as an official she has travelled to the far corners of the globe, seeing Ben Johnson set the 60m track record in 1988 and Bruni Surin set the record for the 100m on Canadian soil. Her biggest highlight, however, was taking part in the Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

"I got goose bumps, it was amazing the pride I felt in being Canadian."

When asked about the pressure involved with being a starter she joked about it. "The best officials sit in the stands."

She emphasized, however, the self-confidence and stature it takes to stand in there despite the "boo birds" and not let yourself get rattled.

A very well-spoken woman, she endorses the sports she plays and officiates in the utmost professional manner. As an ambassador, she appreciates volunteers and noted you can never have too many.

"It is a great way to stay involved in a sport you no longer have time to play, but you still want to give back what it gave you."

Downing has also found one of the best ways to get people interested is to marry them. Her husband of five years has caught the officiating bug and now travels with her, participating in many events as well.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998