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Cram's love for Games spun from pure gold

THE distance from Sochi to soccer is devoured for Steve Cram in one of those trademark, elegant strides that took him to a clutch of gold medals and world records.

Steve Cram in Glasgow yesterday
Steve Cram in Glasgow yesterday

A gliding, guzzler of yards on the track, Cram had no sooner returned from Russia than he was in his car driving from his home in Northumberland to attend a conference at the Science Centre in Glasgow.

His immediate itinerary includes a trip to London at the weekend for the Carling Cup final between Manchester City and his beloved Sunderland. "I have never seen Sunderland win a cup final," he says. "I was 12 in 1973 [when Sunderland beat Leeds United in the FA Cup final] and my dad would not let me go."

The lingering hurt of the deprived football fan is replaced by Cram's reflections on the 40 years since that have included sporting greatness achieved shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett and, more parochially, Tom McKean and Graham Williamson.

History shows that Cram won Olympic silver (Los Angeles 1985, 1500m); world championship gold (Helsinki 1500m, 1983); European Championship gold (Athens 1982, 1500m, Stuttgart 1986, 1500m); and Commonwealth Games gold (Brisbane 1982, 1500m, Edinburgh, 1986, 1500m and Edinburgh, 1986, 800m). During a 19-day period in 1985, he set world records in the 1500m and 2000m and the mile.

The present reveals that, at 53, he is known as a curling commentator to many and the subject of some criticism. This is akin to slagging Einstein because his analysis of the 1922 boat race was suspect.

"Yes, I expected to be ribbed," the athletics legend answers immediately when questioned gently about his personal bests over 27 curling contests at Sochi. He was paired with Jackie Lockhart, the former world curling champion, in the commentary booth and has a self-deprecatory riposte to those who criticised him on social media.

"I know some curling fans might be saying: 'What the hell is he doing it for? What does he know about it?' I accept that and I do the same when listening football commentators, shouting at them over whether they ever played the game.

"But I loved Sochi and I loved the curling. I was trying to open the sport up to a wider audience. Jackie was good on the intricacies and I tried to give a broader picture. The more matches I did, the more confident I became. I was not trying to lecture the thousands of people who know curling, I was addressing the few million watching who did not fully understand the sport."

Cram is aware that television audiences for the Winter Olympics were about the five million mark whereas his athletics golden days were witnessed by more than 20 million viewers in Britain alone. So what happened to athletics? How did the sport stumble in the footsteps of such as Cram, Coe and Ovett.

"First, football was going through a difficult period then," Cram says. "It had a bad image and there were few live matches on television. We had top personalities in athletics so it was a popular television sport with no real pressure from football to barge on to the screen.

"It is different now. I believe there is still a demand for non-football sport but the media want to be part of the most glamorous game. "

Cram, a broadcaster for 30 years, adds: "We have to be a bit more generous to other sports. The Olympics have shown that viewers are interested in rowers, cyclists, curlers . . ."

His journey to Glasgow was part of his duties as an ambassador for Glasgow 2014 partner Atos, who were holding a sales and marketing conference at the Science Centre.

Cram's enthusiasm for the Commonwealth Games is imbued with the joy of experience. "They were great for me," he says. "I was at my first Games aged 17."

The experience of Edmonton was followed by the golds in Brisbane and Edinburgh where he remembers being cheered as a "home" winner despite running against McKean.

Cram believes Mo Farah, winner of the 5000m and 10,000m at the London Olympics, is unlikely to compete in Glasgow as he steps up his bid to be a marathon contender in Rio but is dismissive about the effects of big names sidestepping the Commonwealth games.

'It doesn't matter," he says simply. "If Messi wasn't at the World Cup, I would still watch it. At every Games - Commonwealth or Olympic - someone is not there. You do not write on the back of the medal: Bolt was not here. Once the Games get going, the people who are not there are forgotten about. It is their miss."

Cram is convinced "the drama will suck people in". He insists that major Games take on a life, supply their individual storylines and provide stars.

"What I would really love is for Glasgow to have a home winner on the track. Can you imagine the roar at Hampden if Eilidh Child comes home in the 400m hurdles or Laura Muir steps up after a season when she has been world class? There will be moments that stand out down the years, that's a certainty. You do not know who will be great, but you know it will be great."

It was for Cram. A football fanatic from Gateshead, Cram was advised to give up the game to concentrate on athletics at 13. "My primary school team beat Chris Waddle's team and I scored twice," he says with a smile. "But I was crap and it was easy to take up athletics."

So how did that running thing go, Steve? He smiles and then pauses to reflect on an athletics career that created records, gathered gold and, crucially, still exist in the memories of everyone who watched his impossibly effortless surges past the great and the very, very good.

"I grew up in the post-Roger Bannister era. The four-minute mile was big and he had broken it and I was consumed by the magic of that distance. I won a lot of gold medals and I raced with the best. But for me the greatest moment was beating the mile world record."

Cram's time of 3: 46.2 recorded in Oslo in 1985 stood for eight years. "I felt I had joined an exclusive club," he says. "You become part of a group that includes Bannister, Herb Elliot, Peter Snell, John Walker. The mile record may mean less than it used to, but it still means a lot to me."

Would Cram have given it all up for a back-post header that took the FA Cup to Sunderland? "Running is individual and there is nothing better than being in control of yourself, good or bad," he replies. "I do not know how I would have handled my frustration with a team mate who had made a mistake or wasn't pulling his weight."

He adds firmly: "I wouldn't have given up the mile record, never mind anything else, for that winning goal. But, hey, running was hard."

It was just his genius that made it look easy.

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