Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Ian Stewart

In the same Winter season you won your third European indoor title in 1975  you also won The IAAF' World Cross Country' in Rabat from Mariano Haro; Bill Rodgers and John Walker. To mention three outstanding runners in the race.That was one illustration that showed you did not appear to fear anybody you raced against. With that in mind, what do you think is missing nowadays in UK middle distance racing?
" I think there is two issues.One I don't think the kids are as hungry as they used to be.
Two, I don't think we have got the level of coaches we used to have in distance running. I think we have got a few coaches who are totally overworked and do the best they possibly can but not on a 'one to one basis' that we used to have.'
(Take Ian Stewart and Geoff Warr and their success from that partnership).
Ian continues ' I do feel really feel sorry for the coaches that are coaching right now. I think the actual problem lies with the fact that there are just not enough of them. There were possibly six or eight distance running coaches who might possibly have got the same results out of me.'
There might be probably be one who would be near the level of the coaching that I had now.'

Regarding the way you used to race you did not seem to care about reputations. You beat Keino 'one of the Greatest' in the 5000 at the Commonwealth of 1970 and, the year before you won the European in Athens over 5k too and, that burn up with Viren, Gammoudi and Prefontaine for the medals in 1972 in Munich was another example of your 'Never Say Die' racing spirit. Do you think there is something lacking in some of the people's direction these days or what?
'That racing ability comes from within'
'I was talking to someone the other day and very few people talk to me about running,
but, I never spoke to my coach in my life ever about tactics in races which probably surprises a lot of people. Me and Geoff (Warr)-We never had a conversation before a major championship.We considered that was my job and I just get on with that.
I never used to think about that either. It was not an issue when I went to bed. I did not worry about it. I just used to go and do it."

There was a big volume of good runners that ran around your time for the UK in the 1970's. David Black, Bernie Ford, Tony Simmons, Brendan Foster and many more.
'You are right, but people forget we went through a period, probably not as bad as it is right now but certainly not far off what it is like. When I was a kid I remember going to the White City and watching Ron Clarke break the three mile World Record when he ran 12.52.4 in the AAA's Championship in 1965.and as it was an open Championship the first British guy who came home was eighth and it was Derek Graham. We all went away thinking Derek Graham ran well and he ran a pb today and we were happy with that and, that is probably no different to what the lads are doing right now. We had gone through the Chataway, Ibbotson era and those sort of guys. We had a relative amount of success with Tulloh winning the European of 1962 beating Bolotnikov.'
'Don't forget we still have not won the Olympic 5 or 10,000m.That was a very similar time to now.'

In the 1970's when you were at your best people like Jon Wigley and Keith Penny were well back in the big races like the IAC race that Brendan Foster won but, if they were about now they would probably be right up, possibly as being within the top three in the country.
' I think in fairness to the kids we have got right now, one of the problems you have that, when you had kids like me coming up through the ranks the best runners were  Dick Taylor, Ian McCafferty, and Allan Rushmer when I was a junior but they had not actually won anything and people forget that and they were all very good. A lot of these guys are good at telling you how good they were and they get faster with age.
I am sorry to tell you I am not one of those.
My personal best for 5k was 13:22.8 and I am not ashamed of it. It was winning major championships I was concerned about. I never ran in a paced race in my life and my best 10000 was something like 27:41 and it does not get faster the older I get. What people forget is that when I came on the scene in 1969 and won the European Indoors in Belgrade I was only 20 years old. I can remember coming back for the National Twelve Stage and Dick Taylor and all those guys taking the 'Piss' out of me saying' There ain't a roof over here!!'  I never ran cross-country that year. I never ran the National road relay I was just standing watching. It came to the track season I won the Inter-Counties and AAA's. Dick beat me in the Great Britain v USA match and he broke the British record when we raced Lindgren and Prefontaine at the White City. I was second that night.
I then broke the British 1500 record at the White City in the GB v France match (3:39.1) and we went to Athens to the European Championships where it really mattered. Dick finished last in the 10,000 and I won the 5000 and I was twenty years old."

What did you think about that comment I made earlier of you beating the leading Kenyan runner?
'That was the following year and everybody had hyped the whole thing up and I was still only 21 and I raced Keino and Clarke in Edinburgh as everybody knows.My brother Peter (1972 AAA 1500 Champion) and my coach, everybody was convinced I could not win in Edinburgh (1970 Commonwealth 5k Final)--Everybody other than me and I was totally convinced I would and I said to my brother and coach 'I am not going to discuss it with you again I am just going to get on with it.'I was the tenth fastest guy in the race, before the race started.I have said this before to one or two people that I actually don't think I was a very good runner. In that regard Dave Bedford was probably a better runner than I was.I was a much better racer than most people and I don't think people understand and confuse the issue between running and racing. The problem you have when you get to a major championship is that you have got to be a good racer and be able to think on your feet. I was pretty good at that. That came naturally to me and I like that sort of thing. Probably in these paced races I would probably not be a lot of use to you.
If I got into a race in the shape I was in Munich, I reckon I probably could  have run about 13.05 for 5000. In the major championship in the final, like it was in Sydney, I can tell you now I would have been coming out of the last bend with everybody there. I think there is a big difference between the two issues. For me if I could cross the line in 15:30 and won the Olympic 5000m title I could not have cared less. It was a personal thing and I always saw my job was winning races. I did not see there was anything else. I did not see it as running fast times only as, winning races.
I think it is sad that we put pacemakers in a race and I am trying to cut back on it more and more.

How would you describe your job
'I am the Meeting Director and organise all the athletes for all the Grand Prix's and decide who is running where and what and the whole thing.'
   'I don't blame the kids today although, they do have to take some of the weight on their shoulders, they can't just shrug it off but I think it is difficult times for them.I think it is difficult in these paced races.'
Regarding the coaches. If you take someone like Bud Baldaro, he is a great friend of mine and I think a lot of Bud Baldaro and we have had this discussion a few times. As a coach, unfortunately, because he can't say no and he takes on such a massive group, because he likes to be helpful, I don't think then he becomes very good and it is not because I don't think he knows what he is doing. I just don't think he has the time to devote to people that is required..
Alan Storey is in a similar position.The problem they have is that, everyone knocks Alan and Bud and all these guys but actually, in fairness to them they are actually out there doing it.They are down those tracks three or five times a week and for whatever it takes. These guys sitting back and having a go at them, they are not getting off their 'arse' and doing it. The Geoff Warr's and Harry Wilson's who used to get out there and do it, the Stan Long's. They are missing.What we are losing is their knowledge as well.

Regarding Mileage, Ben Noad said to me about the fact people have tended to get away a bit from mileage.
If you talk to Haile and the boys, you will find they do a lot of running and there is no way round if you want to be in the distance running business, you are going to have to do a lot of running whether you like it or you don't.'
   ' What people don't understand is when I got going we took it to a different level and in the end when Brendan Foster, Dave Bedford and everybody else got into it, we could see we could take these guys on and the whole thing moved up. I think that is what people don't realise that things moved forward and you can see that with women's distance running in Great Britain with Paula and women's distance running now/ It has been far better than men's because they have got somebody out there and they say 'Eh we can actually get off our arses and do this and beat them.I don't think these guys  think like that, they are beaten before they start."

Alastair Aitken

Back to Reports Index

Back to Archive index