Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

David Bedford

(30.12.49 Shaftesbury Harriers)

by Alastair Aitken

Often the real athletics fan, that has had a background of track and cross-country running through the years, does not identify with athletes who gain the gold medals at the major Championships around the World but, find their heroes in those charismatic characters who really capture their imagination as performers. In the 1950's there was that 'Star' track and cross-country man South London Harrier, Gordon Pirie, who was not frightened to take anyone on and, in 1953, took most of the best milers in the World to the cleaners in the first Emsley Carr mile. He also took on the three great Hungarians and beat them over 3000m in a World record. Then there was 'Gentleman' Ron Clarke of Australia, who set a multitude of World records in the 1960's and  gained many medals but never Gold one's. Then there was Dave Bedford, running with his shock of black hair, Viva Zapata moustache, and red socks. There is a lot to say about him as a great cross-country and track runner but something he would not consider his event, that he had hardly tried to do, was the 3000 steeplechase. Yet as a  novice he took on and beat the best specialists around in the UK, with a surprise performance on the 7th of September 1971 at Crystal Palace. Against him were specialists at the event Andy Holden, Gareth Bryan-Jones, Ron McAndrew and John Biscourt. The result was Bedford won in 8:28.6. That was the first time a British runner had run inside 8:30!
   ANDY HOLDEN " David had never run one seriously before and he was up for it. I had come back from having a bit of a downer in the European. It ended up a  tremendous race, out of the blue really. Dave went off after the start like a maniac and I eventually caught him. He gave this great leap at the last barrier and managed to get a couple of yards on me. I could not quite claw it back. It was great as there were 18,000 people shouting. You can't buy memories like that'
   DAVE BEDFORD ' I felt more like an entertainer than an athlete. Everyone was so involved and athletics is all about involvement. That was fantastic to see. I don't think it will be quite the same again.'
   'I have some really great memories running at Crystal Palace and the crowd going berserk. To know you can raise that kind of feeling in people. It is very satisfying."
   As many people must know Dave had many UPS and DOWNS in his athletic career. If it was all UP he would have had a collection of Major Championship medals to prove it but this story will not end on such a note.
   At his club Shaftesbury, he had many friends who would love to run with him on a Sunday mornings, as they found him an invigorating personality to be with. I can remember having a few runs with him in the lunch hours, with other runners across Tower Bridge and round Sothwark Park. One of those with him, every time, was his great friend Mike Beevor, a fine international himself. Beevor actually tipped me off, a week before Dave Broke the World record for 10,000, so my interview with him appeared in Athletics Weekly the very day he did that record.!. It was a lot of fun socially to be with Mike and Dave in those days. I would like to add that the few runs I did with Dave and Mike, that they  went away from me after a couple of miles, on a  7 mile run. Dave had also done a long run to work and, a  long run home in the evening to the outer stretches of North London..
  A week before he broke his 10,000m world record I asked him if he did, like Ron Hill, before the European marathon read books to take his mind off major competitions?
   " Very much so, Ron does it a lot, he detaches himself with his family --I detach myself by watching football, playing golf, drinking and eating with friends, this kind of thing. I think it is important to be able to take it seriously and yet be able to keep things away from it. There are a lot of people who would knock the way I have trained. There were only five people at Munich who trained better than me probably, and even that is questionable.On a bad day I was sixth in the Olympics, so in other words you say there were five people who prepared themselves better-maybe!
Even in my own way, which may appear slap happy but is not, I have achieved a lot more but I don't think I could do it any other way.'

Still What a Hell of a Runner he was:-
 Here are just a small mixture of performances that stood out for me personally:-

1969 He won the International Junior cross county Championships in 19.38 from John Bednarski (19.59) and John Harrison (20.30). England won the team  title.
In 1970 He did something that will go down as legendary and that was win the Southern Senior at Parliament Hill Fields and then about 20 minutes later join in the Southern Junior and won that.
In 1971 he won the National at Norwich in 47.04 from Malcom Thomas 47.44 and Trevor Wright 47.58. He won the official 'National' title again in 1973 (Rod Dixon of New Zealand was first past the post, running as a guest.).
In 1971 Dave won the International Senior (World) Cross Country Championships in San Sebastian.(1 Dave Bedford (38.43), 2 Trevor Wright 39:06, 3 Eddie Grey (New Zealand 39:12) The English team won easily.
Something minor I remember from 1972, a week before I got married, he came second to Malcolm Thomas in the Metropolitan League and then joined in the London Colleges league, the same afternoon, and won. Both were at Parliament  Hill Fields on October 28th 1972.
   At Crystal Palace on the 13th of July in 1973, Dave Bedford sliced 7.4 seconds off Lasse Viren's World 10,000 record that Viren achieved in the Olympic Final at Munich, the year before, with a time of 27:30.9. Bedford went trough half way in 13:39.4. Tony  Simmons was second and Bennie Palin third.
   In 1974 he retained the AAA's title in 28:14.8 out sprinting Bennie Ford.
   " What that race proved is that on my day I can be very competitive as well as going straight from the front. I look at that day as very revealing to me. I was only 80% fit, I had  31/2 -4 weeks training and went into a competition which by rights I should not have won. People said afterwards that I had done more training than I had let on, but the honest fact was I had done 31/2 -4 weeks training and the week before I was still having problems with the injury. In the last two or three days before the race things suddenly got a bit easier and I 'psyched' myself up very well and I went to the race with no real knowledge of exactly how I was going to run it. I decided to sit in and wait to see what happened and, if I got dropped as I thought I might, then there was nothing to worry about over tactics. But if I was still there towards the end then I  knew I would have to deal with that situation when it came and I had the confidence in my ability towards the end. I could have gone with two, three or four laps to go and it was all there.'
    After that Dave had his races but a lot of injury problems and then perhaps he was written off but ' low and behold' I turned up to write up the North of Thames Championships at Stevenage in 1977 and there was Dave blasting the field to bit bits over the country to win the indivicual title. He then went to the National and made the team once more.  He even came back again some time later and won the London Cross Country Championships before retiring from the scene and doing other things. As so many will know he is settled with his job as London Marathon Director.
   Dave had a very spirited and motivational coach, who also loved running, called Bob Parker and Bob spoke about Dave to me in 1996
       " His qualities were sheer guts and strength. He had all the abilities to do it from the front, and people these days never did it that way. They always sat there for the ride and then try and outkick the front runner'
'There are no sort of flamboyant characters about now, they are just quiet boys. Dave set things alight .A pity we have not got someone like it now, that is why we are not doing so well in all the longer races'
'In the 5 and 10,000 we are only average. we are not getting in most of the finals. There were a lot of good boys in Bedford's time. Foster, Simmons, Bernie Ford, Black, a feast of them. There are only about 2 now that are any good. They may train hard enough, but they don't do the right training."

Alastair Aitken

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