ON PAPER, Scottish athletes should not have been in contention for the major medals in the men’s 5,000 metres in Edinburgh in 1970.
The world record holder, Ron Clarke of Australia, was in the field. So was Kenya’s Kip Keino, another of track and field’s all-time greats, and the reigning Olympic champion over 1,500m.
But, while those two had the big reputations, home representatives Ian Stewart and Ian McCafferty were quietly confident of at least making them fight all the way. The race was one of the greatest ever seen at the Commonwealth Games, and the climax had the home crowd in raptures.
At 25, McCafferty was approaching his peak. Ranked fifth in the world over 5,000m in 1967, he had gone on to set an outstanding personal best for the mile of 3mins 56.8sec in 1969.
Stewart had only turned 21 at the start of 1970 but, by that time, he had made a massive impact as a junior. He had set a European age-group record over three miles in 1967 and, the following year, claimed more such records over four distances.
In 1969, having graduated to the senior ranks, he became European 5,000m champion.
So both Scots were fast improving. Even so, their compatriots who assembled that day at Meadowbank, on the orange plastic seats in the main stand or the splintery wooden benches around the terraces, did not expect what arose. A certain timorous optimism was as far as many would go when asked of the prospects of Scots medals. Others, who were familiar with the names and reputation of Keino and Clarke, simply hoped to see a good race and, if the Scots ran well but were out of the medals, so be it.
The Scots ran well, all right. Very well. They burned off Clarke, who was always better against the clock than he was in a fierce race. And then, with the crowd on all sides of the stadium rising to their feet, they got the better of Keino too. The Kenyan could only grin as he gave up the chase and contented himself with a bronze medal. Stewart led McCafferty home, and the double triumph was complete.