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From Meadowbank to Mo: Stewart was always a step ahead

IT is perhaps the most iconic image of the 1970 Commonwealth Games:

Ian Stewart is embraced by his wife Rosemary following his victory in the 5000m at Meadowbank. while Ian McCafferty, right, adds his congratulations.  Picture: James Thomson
Ian Stewart is embraced by his wife Rosemary following his victory in the 5000m at Meadowbank. while Ian McCafferty, right, adds his congratulations. Picture: James Thomson

Ian Stewart, right arm aloft, crossing the Meadowbank finish line two strides ahead of Ian McCafferty, claiming gold and silver in the 5000 metres. "Double Scotch!" roared the headlines. Back in third was the former world record-holder, Olympic 1500m champion and defending Commonwealth champion Kip Keino. In fifth was reigning world record-holder, Ron Clarke.

The Scots had become the second and third quickest men of all time, behind the Australian. Further emphasising the quality was that four of the then eight fastest men ever were in the field, including the first five from the previous Games in Kingston. To this day, no Scot has run faster on home soil.

It was an edge-of-the-seat moment even for the uncommitted. The Italian Roberto Quercetani, doyen of athletics history, described it in Track & Field News that month as "the hottest finish in the history of the event".

McCafferty, from Carluke, took off for home with 800m left, covering the lap in 60 seconds. "It took big balls to do that," acknowledged Stewart this week in an exclusive Herald Sport interview. Stewart overtook just before the bell with Keino on his shoulder and McCafferty a stride behind. The trio were flying as Keino tried to pass, but Stewart accelerated to force him wide, and coming off the bend into the home straight, McCafferty drew on to the Kenyan's shoulder, boxing him in.

The Scots sprinted "eyeballs-out" for the line, McCafferty drawing ever closer before surrendering some 15 metres out. Stewart's final lap was 54.06sec, and his time of 13:22.08 was a European UK, and Scottish national record, while McCafferty's 13:23.04 was a Scottish native best.

"I think I was ninth fastest in the field," recalled Stewart. "But I'd beaten Clarke a fortnight earlier and knew I was in the shape of my life. Still, my brother, and even my coach, told me there was no way I could win."

It was probably the best thing they could have said. Stewart is notorious for an uncompromising streak which has resurfaced throughout his life, as he concedes.

He took over from the late Andy Norman as the most powerful figure in British athletics and was meeting director for Fast Track which organised major events in Britain for UK Athletics. He spent 14 years there before being head-hunted as director of endurance by the UK body when they took promotion in house. It led to him bringing together the team which took Mo Farah to double World and Olympic gold, yet he says it was: "The biggest mistake of my career."

One of six children brought up in Handsworth, a Birmingham council estate, he was just 18 when he made his GB senior debut. "Then, 50% of the GB team were Oxford and Cambridge University people," he says. That may explain why he and his brother, Peter, tore up an expenses claim in front of the sport's treasurer, Roberts Stinson. "We were due to run against East Germany in London. He was prepared to pay our ticket from Birmingham to London, but not the tube fare from Euston to Lancaster Gate," he says. "I think it was two shillings and tuppence ha'penny [11 pence in today's money]."

The pair walked off up Lancaster Gate, with the British team manager in pursuit: "I think there's been a misunderstanding . . . " The money was paid and the pair ran. Stewart, an apprentice in a gun barrel proof house on £3.50-per-week at the time, was ultimately responsible for paying millions to the world's greatest athletes when he became the principle architect in the UK of professionalising track and field.

Last year he was controversially ousted at UKA. A torrent of abuse from internet trolls accompanied it. "It was the manner in which it was done," he said. "One minute they're telling me I'm a genius, the next they wanted me as a consultant on something else. I was not interested."

He is now a consultant for Brendan Foster's company, Nova, whose portfolio includes the Great North and Great Scottish Runs. He also does work for Birmingham City Council. His home is on the Worcestershire border, at Webheath and he commutes between there and Columbus, spending weeks at a time in Ohio with his wife, Stephanie Hightower, chief executive of United States Track and Field.

The post of head of endurance at UKA was invented for him, the focus being to help make Mo Farah be the best in the world. "I was asked to do it. I never applied and never, ever, said I was a coach. I was a facilitator, put together a structure.

"Without Barry Fudge [his friend and successor] and our medical team, we could not have got where we have. Everyone - physios, doctors, masseurs - were all former endurance runners. It was about understanding the product and it was a fantastic team: no big egos. Alberto Salazar [Farah's coach] is a good friend and I think he was as lucky to meet us, as perhaps we were to convince him to help us with Mo."

Britain's medical team worked on Farah's US training partner, the Olympic 10k silver medallist Galen Rupp, and Stewart organised their races. "As meet director I could control their programme. In 2012 there was no way Kenenisa Bekele [world record holder and Olympic champion] or anyone of that ilk, was going to race Mo on British soil before the Olympics."

Farah had been eliminated in the heats as Bekele did the double in Beijing. "The team got Mo to double champion at the next Games. I don't think many people thought that was possible. We put a great team together.

"I don't care what people write about me. If you are head of endurance and a meeting director, people will have a view. Does my attitude piss people off? I guess it must do. I don't like failure. I am not good at it myself. I could not stand losing. It pissed me off more than anything and I probably adopted that attitude to peoples' running.

"As a meet director you have difficult decisions. No matter how you sugar-coat it, if I tell you I can't put you in the London Grand Prix, I am saying you're not good enough."

He suggests that some of those now at UKA are not used to making the hard decisions that he and the Dutch former head of performance, Charles van Comennee, had to make.

Is the sport at risk of stagnating? "That's not for me to say, but I think we have taken massive steps backwards, though I may be proved wrong," Stewart said. "Forget pushing me aside. When people like John Rogers - the best doctor we have had for endurance - walks out; when our best scientist, Barry Fudge is moved from where he is really needed, to head of endurance, and where Neil Black, a great physio, is now performance director, well . . . "

A conversation with the late Gordon Pirie [six-mile world record holder] when he was 18, persuaded Stewart to increase mileage. "So I did a 16-miler on Sunday mornings, and then 10 miles fartlek ["speed play" in Swedish: a training method which blends continuous training with interval training] in the afternoon." A marathon.

It made him a prodigy; European indoor and outdoor champion at 20 and Commonwealth champion a year later. Just eight days after winning a second European indoor gold, in Poland, he won the world cross-country crown in Rabat: the last British male to do so and a unique double. He likes to remind people: "That was in a Scottish vest."

His Olympic 5000m bronze in 1972 - he almost threw it away and it lay for years untouched in a drawer - prompted the comment: "You don't win bronze: you lose gold. I probably ran the worst final of my life. Not one of my finest efforts when I was in super shape. It was my fault and a huge missed opportunity."

He and his brother - European 1500m indoor champion and UK mile record-holder - had a fierce rivalry. They finished first and second in the Emsley Carr Mile in the same time. "Sometimes we wouldn't speak on journeys home. I hated racing him."

When Stewart stopped running, he drove motor bikes for cameramen on the Tour de France. "They'd be jumping all over the back of you, on wet roads, nasty descents like Alpe de Huez, cobblestones. You were always on the wrong side of the bend, because the riders had the racing line. People came off all the time - but it was a brilliant job."

That love affair continues. He has just taken delivery of a customised, hand-built Harley. "It's taken me 10 years to get my hands on a Screaming Eagle CVO Springer Softail."

And Glasgow 2014? "A friend has tickets. Nobody has asked me to get involved, so we'll just go and watch."

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