Interview: Blackburn serves as ITO at World Championship in Berlin

National Scholastic Sports Foundation's John Blackburn talks about serving as an International Technical Official at the World Championship in Berlin. What was your role at World Championships this year?
blackburn: I was an International Technical Official (ITO) at the World Championship in Berlin.  The host country provides better than 90-percent of the officials at the World Championship. The IAAF appoints ITOs, to serve as oversight officials working with the local officials.  The main purpose of the ITOs is to provide consistency between events held in different countries as well as providing additional eyes at the event during the competition.  I have been on the ITO panel for eight years and was an ITO at the Athens Olympics. 

scrunners: When you did first learn of being named to this position and what did you think about being named an ITO?
blackburn: I received the Berlin assignment a couple of years ago.  It is a great opportunity to be involved in track and field competition at the highest level. 

scrunners: What was it like for you to attend the meet in Berlin?
blackburn: Officiating at an athletics meet at the Berlin Olympic stadium was a tremendous thrill and honor.  I have heard many stories about the Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens and the like.  For a chance to see some of the 1936 Olympics, the 1938 film "Olympia," admittedly a significant Nazi propaganda piece, contains an extensive record of the competition in this same stadium in 1936.  Yes, there is a blue track and a roof now, but the overall stadium is pretty much the same.

scrunners: What do you feel you learned from the meet?
blackburn: Each time I work at a worldwide competition I learn more, about track officiating, the world we live in, and the great people from around the world.  For instance, I got to work with officials from many countries including Germany, Sweden, Spain, New Zealand, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Brazil.  In addition, I was reminded about how limiting it is that I only speak and understand English.  I am extremely grateful to those from other countries who learn English in addition to their native language.

scrunners: Did you experience something or more than one you will not forget?
blackburn: There were several amazing experiences, probably the top one being the first Sunday night.  Usain Bolt set a world record in the 100-meter dash, and Germans won silver medals in the women's shot put and heptathlon.  The stadium went bonkers.

Another was the women's pole vault.  I was assigned to the event and it was great to see the Polish vaulter so excited after she won the gold medal when Isinbayeva failed to clear a height.  Chelsea Johnson's (silver medal) comment to me was "I don't think I will ever forget this night."
A third was during at a luncheon hosted by the 2011 World Championship organizers from Korea.  They told a story of an ancient Greek helmet (7th century BC) unearthed by a German archaeologist in the nineteenth century.  The helmet was awarded to the winner of the marathon at the 1936 Olympics.  The athlete was Korean and the helmet remains a highly regarded artifact in the national museum.  The Koreans presented a replica of the helmet to the German athletics federation at the luncheon.  It was interesting and moving to hear about another country's Berlin Olympic story.

scrunners: What kind of plans do you have for the cross country season and track and field in 2010?
blackburn: I will attend a few cross country meets this fall, including the Great American up in Cary, N.C..  Also, in late October I will travel to Paris for an examination to hopefully be recertified as an ITO for the next four years.  For 2010, my plans include the Nike Indoor Nationals, Taco Bell, S.C. State Championship.  Pretty much my normal schedule.  No international assignments so far.