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Follow the leader . . . Ian Stewart on why we should encourage today's generation to go the distance

THE life of Ian Stewart stills seems to be run to a stopwatch, even as his 64th birthday appears next month.

Ian Stewart with two of his pupils, Hannah England and Mo Farah. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Ian Stewart with two of his pupils, Hannah England and Mo Farah. Picture: Stewart Attwood

It may be some time since he won medals in the biggest of events, but Stewart continues to live at a hectic pace and has Glasgow 2014 in his sights.

He is meet director for the international match at the Emirates Stadium on January 26, but he is also keeping a close eye on the upcoming Commonwealth Games in the city.

Stewart has a medal haul at 5000m that includes bronze at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and golds at the European Championships in Athens in 1969 and the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

But he is a man who looks forward rather than back, particularly in his post as head of endurance at UK athletics. He bears positive news, particularly in the shape of Mo Farah. Will the gold medallist at 5000 and 10,000 metres at London 2012 compete in Glasgow 2014?

Stewart, who works closely with the runner, says: "It is the one thing he has not won, so there is more than a chance. He has the Europeans and the Commonwealth Games as possible events and he has won the Euros twice. I would say there is no reason why he couldn't, or shouldn't, compete in Glasgow."

Farah, a stellar athlete, speaks to many of Stewart's ideas about the sport, particularly in terms of inspiration and working to achieve a goal. "He is great with kids, such a personable guy and his message can be taken onboard by everyone," says Stewart.

The endurance coach is evangelical about the progress being made in the sport. "If British distance running gets it right, then the rest of the world can wrap it up and go home. Look at what happened in the Olympics when Mo got it right,'' he said. "The sport has transformed itself in the last five years. The Olympics has inspired a lot of kids to come along and take up track. There is a chance for the springboard effect. ''

He said he started working with Farah when the athlete could not make the finals of the Beijing Olympics. "But now look where is he. It took about three years to turn that around.''

Stewart believes the Farah template can be applied more generally. "If you have the determination and the encouragement, most kids can do this. There has been an element of people saying: 'Our kids cannot do this.' But our kids are as good as anyone."

He adds: "Britain has a huge tradition of distance running from 1500m to marathon and we sort of gave it away. And that is why I became involved again. We are better than this.

"We have to stop saying how bad the kids are. We should be telling them they are as good as anyone in the world. Do not talk to me about Kenya or Ethiopia or wherever. We are really good at this. Look at the history."

It is also worth looking at the present with Great Britain and Northern Ireland topping the medal table for the fifth year at the European Cross Country Championships in Budapest this month. However, Stewart knows there is no shortcut to success. "It is all about the volume of training. There is no cheap fix with distance running. It is about the hard yards. That is the nucleus of distance running," he said.

On the matter of distance, he believes, incidentally, that Farah will not contemplate the marathon before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Why would he do it now when he is the best 5k and 10k runner in the world?" he asks.

Any switch to the longer distance is all in a future that will make demands on Stewart as one of the forces behind distance running in Great Britain. But first he has to make sure the meet at the Emirates next month is successful.

"I believe it will be a sell-out,'' he says. "Athletics has soared in the wake of London 2012 and there will be a very strong British team out."

The precise details of this side cannot be given because many athletes are still drawing up their 2013 schedules, but Stewart said Dai Greene, the Welsh hurdler, and Dwight Chambers, the sprinter, are both confirmed. The other teams – USA, Commonwealth Select, Russia, and Germany – have promised to send strong squads and Stewart is revelling in the opportunity to provide "a spectacular advert for the Commonwealth Games".

Already the clock is ticking for Glasgow 2014.

n Tickets for the 2013 British Athletics Series are available at www.uka.org.uk

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