Sixth sense that propelled Stewart to famous gold and Hall of Fame

HOSTS always have high hopes on the eve of major championships, and the Scottish team were no exception as they awaited the start of the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. All the same, even the most optimistic athlete can hardly have expected the explosive start to the track-and-field programme provided by Lachie Stewart.

The 27-year-old from Rutherglen was taking part in the big event on day one - the 10,000 metres. He was a good athlete, but he was up against one of the greats of the sport, Australia's Ron Clarke.

Stewart was therefore regarded as primarily a hope for a minor medal, but, in one of the most inspiring moments in Scottish sport of the past 50 years, he timed his race perfectly to overtake Clarke in the home straight.

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Speaking in Edinburgh yesterday after he and seven others were inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, Stewart explained that his aim before the race had been to keep in touch with the leaders then see how things developed.

"I had a chance, actually," he said. "Before the gun went I was the second fastest man in the field that year, so I thought 'If I run to form I should get a medal'.

"My aim was to stick with the leaders. It was my philosophy to never let a gap open up. If anyone takes it on, go with them. And of course I knew with the people who were in the field that nobody would go early on - we'd all hang on to each other. It was only later on that we wore the rest of the field down.

"As the race progressed I realised I'd got a third place, because we broke away. Then as we progressed a bit further, with two laps to go I thought 'I'm going to win this'. You get a sixth sense.

"I actually thought the last two laps were slowing down, and I was thinking of taking it on then. But I thought I'd wait, because I'd never been beaten in a sprint finish.

"I was actually oblivious to anything that happened until I went past Ron Clarke. Once I went past him with 50 yards to go I was then conscious. I thought 'I've done it'."

Clarke was a systematic runner, perhaps one of the first to approach the discipline truly scientifically. The downside of that approach, however, was maybe a lack of spontaneity, and an inability to respond quickly when events did not pan out as he had planned them.

"He was the type of runner that wears a field down," Stewart recalled. "But saying that, he'd run quite a fast mile.

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"I think his fastest mile was something like four minutes four seconds, which is no slouch. He never had a fast finish, but if he wore the field down he didn't need a fast finish."

Back in 1970, athletics was still strictly amateur, but Stewart had been lucky enough to have sympathetic employers as he trained for the Edinburgh event. "I worked at the dental hospital and they were quite good to me in there.

"I was able to use the facilities at the hospital. I'd go for a run at lunchtime then be able to use the showers.

"I used to run in there in the mornings, too, then run back home in the evenings. It was only four miles there and back, but in the evenings I'd do a detour.

"Sometimes I'd go out and run 12 miles at lunchtime. Then on the way home I'd do anything from eight to 12 miles.

"There's not many people do that nowadays. It's usually two sessions a day - one's an easy session and one's a hard session. I had two hard sessions.

"Weekends I'd maybe do one session Saturday and another Sunday if I wasn't racing. But that one session was quite heavy - it would sometimes be a 17-mile run."

Having witnessed the rise of a sedentary, overweight generation, Stewart regrets the passing of the kind of self-discipline which stood him in such good stead. "Unfortunately there are a lot of sports now like athletics, rowing, swimming - and I'm sure there are a few others - which need a supreme effort in training," he said.

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"And a lot of youngsters nowadays don't seem to want to put that supreme effort in. They want to sit in front of a computer."

It is because of that analysis that Stewart would be delighted to see Glasgow win its bid to host the Games in 2014. "It could only be good for Glasgow, because it would give Glasgow more facilities," he concluded. "And in this age of computers and kids getting fat, there's a need for sporting role models."