Edinburgh was not so much a home from home for Steve Cram in 1986 as a handy commute.
The Commonwealth Games of that summer were as close as the Jarrow Arrow would get to pursuing a significant prize on his own patch and the then world 1500 metres champion was torn between shuttling back and forth up the A1 or throwing himself into village life.
Under immense scrutiny, he opted for a compromise. “I recall booking into a hotel under my manager’s wife’s maiden name,” he laughs. “Of course, the press soon found me.” The ill-fated subterfuge did no harm. The Englishman retained the 1500m crown acquired in Brisbane four years earlier before holding off home favourite Tom McKean as well as Peter Elliott to secure a second gold in the 800m. “Seb Coe had pulled out just before but I ran 1:43.2, which is still a Games record,” he adds. “It was my only 800m title, which was pretty special.”
Now 53, Cram – a few wrinkles apart – is still a doppelganger of the lean striding machine who muscled his way into the private duel between Coe and Steve Ovett, snaring Olympic silver in Los Angeles in 1984 and then reaching an omnipotent peak 12 months later when he smashed three world records within 19 days.
Transformed into the BBC’s voice of athletics, he remains an avid runner as well as a coach (to middle-distance prospect Laura Weightman among others), race organiser (he oversees the Kielder Marathon near his Northumberland home) and corporate booster (we meet at an event set up by Edinburgh-based equipment suppliers Anytime Leisure).
It is already a full timetable, which is why his confirmation this week as a special advisor to British Athletics took some by surprise. Never shy of an opinion, Cram has long been an informal source of unfiltered feedback for many within the sport, his achievements affording him both credence and respect. In truth, he declares, the only change to his role will be its formality, with new endurance supremo Barry Fudge incorporating that wisdom into a consultancy group which also includes Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah’s mentor, Alberto Salazar.
The remit includes everything from 1500m to marathon and fell running to cross-country. Primarily, he says, it is about nurturing the coming generation of coaches, some of whom were once his competitive contemporaries.
“A good example is Laura Muir,” says Cram. “I chatted with her coach during the winter because you go from when nobody knows who you are to, all of a sudden, being asked to run in Diamond Leagues.
“It’s very different and sometimes even the coach hasn’t got the experience to deal with that. So it’s being able to talk to the coach in particular and say ‘look at this’ or ‘have you thought about that?’”
Such knowledge transfer is not breaking new ground. In the past, politics have often left good intentions in disarray. Everyone, it seems, is keen to unpick the secrets of Salazar and his Oregon Project, the Nike-backed programme which has acquired an almost mythical status through the accomplishments of Londoner Farah and others.
A little of the lustre, for some, was rubbed off when Farah failed to live up to the impossible hype at last weekend’s London Marathon. One of the Olympic champion’s trusted sounding boards, the pair spoke at a charity event on Tuesday but Cram has counselled against a rapid reaction. “I said that the primary goal was to find out one way or the other if this was something he wanted to pursue for Rio. And that’s what he needs to take the time on with Alberto.”
While it was confirmed yesterday that Farah will compete on the second day of July’s Diamond League meeting in Glasgow, a decision on whether he will target a track gold at the Commonwealths will likely be left until the last minute. With the subsequent opportunity to defend his two European titles in Zurich, over-extension is a hazard to be avoided.
However, for Scotland’s hopefuls, Hampden has long been the main goal. Many are currently in the United States, either training or seeking out competitions – like today’s Mt SAC Invitational in California – which might spur them to achieve the qualifying standards.
It is expected that European 800 metres champion Lynsey Sharp will use her own Stateside sojourn to make her return from injury, perhaps as soon as next weekend at the Penn Relays meeting in Philadelphia, which proved to be her final outing of 2013. The 23-year-old requires some quick times – and quickly – to ensure her eligibility for both Glasgow and her continental defence.
Positivity must be her friend, Cram suggests. This will be as much a mental as a physical test. Yet what she should not do is act on any compulsion to accelerate, simply to beat the Team Scotland clock.
“You should never rush that process. You might take time to get back to where you were and not get too despondent if a race doesn’t go well and you think ‘what’s all this about?’ She has to stay patient.”
Cautiously, he expects to see her at the Commonwealths from his seat within the BBC’s booth. In 1978, as a raw teenager in Edmonton, the Games offered him an apprenticeship for major championships ahead. Some will use Glasgow as a similar stepping stone. Others, as he once did at Meadowbank, will leave anonymity behind. “If Scottish athletes are in contention, and maybe winning medals,” he declares, “that would be fantastic.”