Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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David Bedford OBE at the Night of the PBs - May 2016 (Part 1)

Highgate Harriers fourth, Annual Night of the PB’s, set up by Ben Pochee, has become a tremendous night of exciting racing and was billed as the Olympic 10,000m Trials for 2016 on the eve of 21/5/16.
Dave Bedford, who has been presenting the prizes each year, talked to me just before Race 1 of 6 Races, at the Parliament Hill Track, near Hampstead Heath.
  “I think the attention that the event gets which is rare these days is of great value. It is a fascinating event. I would say that of course as a former World record holder at 10,000m
But I think the attention it is getting here, at Parliament Hill track is way and beyond any attention it would get elsewhere. I think the whole model of this here, the work Ben Pochee does and the City of London do, to make this happen, is absolutely wonderful. It is no coincidence that these are the Olympic trials. The Governing body of the sport, UK Athletics also recognises what is happening here and the club (Highgate Harriers) Ben and everyone else should be applauded for the efforts they are putting in.”

In your time we had about 30 of the World’s top athletes around 71-72-73-74, even though we did not get many gold medals.
What are your feelings about that?

“The World has changed a bit. Athletics has become truly international. If you go back to the late 60’s early 70’s we were really seeing the emergence of the African athletes, obviously, from Kenya and Ethiopia. That started to change the World a bit. We also, of course, started to see the emergence of cheats as well and that, in some cases, blurred the picture a bit.”

Steve Backley once said to me in 2002, the trouble is you only get mostly bad publicity on athletics in the papers so, it was little unusual for the Times to-day to gave a comment regarding tonight’s athletics at Parliament Hill.
“The fact that we have had a difficult period for distance running in this country, not withstanding the wonderful achievements of key people Eamonn Martin won London, Radcliffe and Jo Pavey who been outstanding. I think when we look back at this period we would recognise that it was not quite as difficult as we thought it was. The problem is that other athletes lost their belief. I think too many of the coaches were saying, you can not run faster without taking drugs so, they all misused the emergence of the Africans as the reason why you could not do something, as opposed to something you should try to do and run as fast as you can. There is no reason why, at the moment we have only got one athlete and maybe two with Andy Vernon who can run faster  than 27:30 for 10,000m That is nothing to do with drugs. That is to do with hard work and desire. So, I think we have lost the plot a little bit but, Athletics is cyclical and we will have chance in the future and, events like this will give us that springboard for maybe regaining some credibility across the board with distance running.’

If you look back at the pleasure you got when performing with the cross-country and the track events you did. What gave you the most pleasure out of the collection of races you did, that were special to you
“It is difficult to answer that. Being young and being good at sport is as good as life would ever be. I think I was lucky that I ran at a time when British athletes were strong and, you really had to fight for recognition. It was not an easy one to do. There was a ‘Great’ previous generation of Dick Taylor, Ron Hill, and Jimmy Alder and so on and I think, as a kid, to come up to that level and get to the other side of it was about hard work. I think it would be glib to say that guys don’t work hard enough but I think the guys today don’t want it as we did, maybe then, and don’t recognise the value and the genuine feeling of success when you run personal bests so, I was always driven by a personal best at what ever distance I ran and, that to me said everything I did, with all the hard work, was justified by a personal best. One of those personal bests ended up as a World record was just co-incidental.”

The interesting thing was the people you were running against were rivals but good friends.
Simmons, Colin Moxsom, Mike Beevor, Andy Holden - wonderful runners!

“I used to run with you from the City Gym in London, as my second session of the day. Most club runners were useful for a training run because the quality of the club runners everywhere was so good.”

Have you got memories of Parliament Hill Fields
“I remember coming here when I was 14 and running when it was a cinder track. Remember at club meets in 2 mile races here. I actually became the Shaftesbury Boys high jump Champion one year, when I was 14 but only because nobody turned up for it.”

Tom Bedford, your son would find it difficult to emulate your performances but he was quite clever and did the marathon in a good time, and that was event you did not do.
He also won an English Schools title which you did not manage but it must have given you pleasure to see him win the English Schools steeplechase.

“I think the fact he has moved away from competing a little bit and moved into promoting his own event - The Richmond Running Festival and being involved in the organisation.
Bearing in mind that for the last 35 years I have been involved in athletics organisation and promotion gives me a great deal of satisfaction, because that will last a lot longer than a running career.”

You have got a new job to do. What does that exactly entail, as you were an organiser of the London Marathon full time till you retired from that?
“In my later years I don’t work full time with the London Marathon but part time. You will remember in my younger days I was heavily involved in the administration and direction of UK athletics. I was invited at the start of the year to become a non-executive director of athletics and, I thought about it. That would be interesting to go back in there and I am thoroughly enjoying it. The fact that tonight that the British Championships are being held here, as a trial for the Olympics I think is great.”

Many, many years ago when you started out as an organiser, your confidence was boosted by a very intelligent runner Derek Johnson, who was a GB international who came second in the 1956 Olympic 800m. I met him for the last time at the City Literary Institute where he was learning Arabic!
“He had a great influence, not with my running life but after running. He saw in me something I had not seen in myself and, helped me expand my horizons, intelligence and confidence in the administrative world. I probably think about him every other day. Every time I do something I think is important, when I am talking about the attitude towards drugs, wanting a clean sport; when I am talking about integrity I always remember him because, that was what he taught me.”  

Alastair Aitken

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