Brendan Foster’s curriculum vitae is rich and impossibly varied. An Olympic medallist with a European title to boot. A lengthy spell as a BBC commentator whose Geordie tones were the accompaniment to many a British victory on the international stage. Now 70, his greatest legacy might be the events company that grew out of the Great North Run, a vehicle for millions to hit the streets in the cause of fitness, fun or financing a charitable cause.
His latest venture, the Great Stirling XCountry, was formally unveiled yesterday. It replaces the event which used to be staged in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, and the initial edition is scheduled for 12 January.
“We were disappointed to leave Edinburgh,” Foster said. “But the council decided that a televised sporting event is not on their wish-list any more.”
There have been calls in recent weeks for Foster to take over as chair of UK Athletics should the embattled incumbent, Richard Bowker, be forced out amid unhappiness with his strategic vision from the home nations but they will be resisted.
“I’m more interested in Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan and Andy Butchart and Callum Hawkins than in arguments between federations,” Foster said.
“The battles which are going on at UKA don’t have anything to do with us but what is important is that, rather than it being about what’s going on in boardrooms, it must be about people running on tracks or on roads or in fields.”
That he cites four of Scotland’s finest in his rationale is no coincidence. There is much to like about the production line that has been created and nurtured north of the border, he says. A model from which others can learn.
Some may be enforced should the funding pot be squeezed come 2021. Not something that should be feared, says Foster, the embodiment of a pre-Lottery era where graft was paramount to earn a living wage.
“I’m not sure there is a direct correlation in athletes between funding and medals,” he adds. “It’s about getting the job done. Eilish McColgan got dropped from funding and did even better. It has that effect. The sad thing is that cross-country is the poor relation. Stirling in January is the only televised event and cross-country was one of the original Olympic events. But without it, we’d be much the poorer because almost everyone we’ve ever had has come through that circuit.”
The prize alumnus remains Mo Farah with the four-time Olympic gold medallist now firmly a contender for a fifth crown following the European record he established at last Sunday’s Chicago Marathon. At 35, further garlands at Tokyo 2020 seemed improbable when he quit the track last summer.
Rip up that script, Foster proclaims. “I think he’s our best bet for a gold medal in athletics in Tokyo. He’s won four Olympic golds and he has that experience. He’s clearly getting ready to run a better marathon. He could have gone faster on Sunday. There is one outstanding marathon runner in the world in Eliud Kipchoge but at the Games you only have to beat three Kenyans and three Ethiopians but when he goes to Chicago or London or Boston, you have to beat a dozen of each.”