Dedicated Des deserves a final cheer

Highly-regarded Ipswich track official Des Johnston is retiring from international duty after serving at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.


ATHLETICS:  Ipswich track and field official Des Johnston retires from international duty having witnessed high drama, experienced Aussie fervour and achieved many goals.

While he was indirectly involved in Australia’s 4x400m relay team disqualification at Carrara Stadium, his lasting memory from the latest Commonwealth Games will be the Aussie fans.

“I think the high point for me was the crowd,” Johnston said.

“Irrespective of some days there weren’t any more than about two-thirds full (in the stadium), there was tremendous support of all the athletes there.

“There was a huge, upbeat feeling in the stadium throughout the eight days of competition.”

Johnston was part of the athletic program every day and night of the Games, in his important role as a track umpire.

Asked where he was positioned during the sessions, he replied:  “Here, there and everywhere”.

“I was usually behind the start or past the finish line in that maze of camera people,” he said.

“For the 200, I was mostly on the bend and watching for lane infringements and things like that.  The same with the 400s.”

He was nearby when the Aussie 4x400m relay team was disqualified in the heats “for the fact that the athlete changed his position on the order line of the changeover”.

Johnston had to record the infringement, which was reported by another track official.

While disappointed to see that happen, Johnston said the track rules had to be followed.

Johnston said a highlight was seeing emotional Aussie Brandon Starc leap over the high jump bar to win gold.

“The place just erupted,” Johnston said.

“Just watching athletes give their best is what I do the sport for.  It was great.”

He accurately noted the difference between Commonwealth Games and Olympic competition.

“It’s chalk and cheese,” he said.  “Because the standard, while it was high (at the Gold Coast), didn’t have the superstars from America and these other huge European countries.”

In Sydney, he was working when Cathy Freeman strode to a historic victory in the 400m final, sending the Games stadium crowd into euphoria.

“It took about 25 minutes for the crowd to stop erupting and then (American) Michael Johnson came out and duly won his 400,” Johnston said.

After decades of being involved in elite sport, the Ipswich official was immensely proud to have shared in the Gold Coast excitement.

He praised the Aussie fans for maintaining their fair-minded reputation.

“Aussies love going and watching sport and they don’t care where you are from,” he said.  “They’ll give you the support you deserve.”

Having a 60 year association with athletics, he was honoured to be invited to the Opening Ceremony.

The long-serving Ipswich and District Athletic Club former president, coach and track official read the oath on behalf of officials.

He delivered his part standing alongside four-time Australian Commonwealth Games lawn bowls medallist Karen Murphy (on behalf of the athletes) and Australian netball coach Lisa Alexander (on behalf of coaches).

“I got excited . . . very proud,” the Flinders View resident said, ruling out any nerves on the international stage.

“They heard a little shake in the voice on one word but other than that it was fine.”

As for the controversial Closing Ceremony, Johnston stayed until the end, not getting back to his hotel until nearly midnight.

“It was there to be enjoyed as a musical thing,” he said of the ceremony.

“I enjoyed it.  I would probably agree that maybe they could have done things differently but that’s the decision they took and they have to live with that.”

He could understand the concern over the athletes not being shown entering the stadium.

“There were a lot of people walking out,” Johnston said.

But when it was all over, he celebrated his final Commonwealth Games experience with a well-deserved beer.