Athletics: New age of the Stewarts

GLEN STEWART: Rising son of a legend is following in his father's spikemarks as an international.
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The Independent Online
It was celebration time in the Stewart household on Monday. It was Glen's 28th birthday. He was born in 1970, the year of his father's finest half-hour. It took Lachie Stewart a little less than half an hour, in fact, to become a national hero in Edinburgh on the evening of 18 July 1970. Glen was not quite around to behold it at the time. He has, though, seen a reflective glimpse of his father's finest 28 minutes and 11.71 seconds.

"I've seen the last three or four laps," he said. "We've got it on video somewhere. The rest of the race got binned before it got transferred from reels on to video."

The final few laps do not tell the whole story of the 1970 Commonwealth Games 10,000m final but they feature the drama of the denouement. Rounding the final bend, with 120m to go, Lachie Stewart made the gold rush for which he is still lauded north of the border. The dental technician from Dumbartonshire brought the Meadowbank crowd to their feet as he sprinted to victory. In doing so, he left the great Ron Clarke trailing forlornly in his wake. It was Clarke's final tilt at an elusive major championship title and Stewart was too quick for the Australian who ripped through the world record books.

It was in the blue vest of Scotland that Lachie Stewart achieved his famous victory. It will be the red, white and blue of Great Britain that Glen Stewart wears in Italy today. Six days past his 28th birthday, Lachie's son will be following his father's spikemarks into the international championship arena. He runs for Britain in the European cross-country championships at Ferrara, near Venice.

"I ran in the world road relays in Brazil in April," Stewart the younger said. "But that was a team race. This is my first British vest as an individual runner so I'm quite pleased."

So is his father, and with greater reason than natural paternal pride. Lachie is Glen's coach. "I think it's long overdue, right enough," Stewart senior said, shooting a proud glance in the direction of his son. "Glen's had a lot of misfortunes over the years. He's suffered from colds a lot and from being up here, not having enough competition. He lost a bit of the fight in him when he didn't get picked for the 1994 Commonwealth Games. But I think he's got the determination back now. As a young athlete he broke one of the British records by about five seconds so there's always been something there."

Glen, in fact, is still catching up with the promise he showed as a teenage prodigy. At the age of 14, back in 1985, he ran 4min 3.0sec for 1500m and 4min 21.9sec for the mile. Both remain British records in the boys' age-group. As a senior athlete, he has yet to qualify for a major championship on the track. Finishing 15th in the AAA championship 5,000m race in July left him a long way short of contention for Britain's European Championship team and for Scotland's Commonwealth Games squad. It also left him close to hanging up his racing shoes.

In the past two months, however, those racing shoes have revived the running fortunes of Stewart junior. In October he shone in the Great Caledonian Run, beating the Kenyans John Mutai, William Mutwol and Benedict Muli in the 10km race through the streets of Edinburgh and finishing runner-up to Mohammed Mourhit, the Moroccan-born Belgian who has placed fifth and eighth in the last two world cross-country championships. Then, in Margate last month, Stewart transferred some of that brilliant road racing form to the country, finishing sixth in the Reebok international event. It was enough to secure his place in the six-strong Great Britain team for today's 9km race.

"It's hard to put my finger on why I haven't really broken through as a senior," Glen said. "There have been so many times when I've thought, 'Oh yeah I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it.' One of the worst things was not being picked for the Commonwealth Games in 1994. I'd run 3min 43sec for 1500m and was on the verge of selection. They picked the team and I wasn't in it but then I ran 3:41 and 3:40 and they still didn't include me. They said they weren't picking anyone else but just before the team flew out they put in somebody else.

"I took that really badly and I've never really seemed to get things right since then. I've been a full-time runner since I left university and after the way things went this summer I was toying with the idea of packing it in. There's not really a lot of money in it. But if things go well over the next year I'll keep going and aim for the Olympics in 2000. I'd have to get my 5,000m time down, though. I've run 13min 53sec, which is a terrible personal best really. You need to be running 13:20 these days. I think it's possible, though."

Since graduating in economics from Glasgow University, Glen has lived at home with his father in Bonhill, a suburb of Alexandria, the Dumbartonshire town that gave the world the smallest man to lift the FA Cup: Bobby Kerr. He trains alone, mainly on the roads and country paths leading through the Vale of Leven to Loch Lomond - following schedules devised by his father. "It works well," Glen said. "In fact it helps a lot that my dad has done it all himself. He knows how it feels.

"It doesn't bother me at all that I'm always known as 'the son of Lachie Stewart'. It's just natural to me. It's something I've been brought up with. A lot of people say to me, 'Och, you must be sick of it.' But I'm not at all. I understand that it's why people are interested. It's amazing the number of people who don't even follow athletics but who still remember my dad winning at the Commonwealth Games in 1970."

Not that you will find any reminder of Lachie's glory day on display in the Stewart house. The Commonwealth gold medal, like the video footage from 1970, is in an old cardboard box somewhere. The walls, in fact, are a shrine to the pastime father and son enjoy away from running. At 55, Lachie still runs most days in his lunch-break. But his spare-time passion, like his son's, is building models of historical military craft. "You should see the garage," Lachie said. "I lose myself in time in there on Sundays."

Not this particular Sunday, though. Lachie's 13-foot replica of the Bismarck will have to wait for a fresh lick of paint. The model father and coach will be in front of the television set this afternoon, following the latest member of the Bonhill Stewart clan to don a Great Britain vest.

Lachie wore the colours back in 1972. He was burned off in the Olympic 10,000m heats by Miruts Yifter, of Yifter the Shifter renown. He was also a cross-country international for Scotland, finishing fourth in the 1967 world championship race at Barry.

Glen's target on his international championship debut today is a top 20 to 40 placing and a supporting role in a British push for team medals. Whatever his fate, though, his coach will be justly proud of him. "I think Glen has done really well," Lachie Stewart said of his son and protege. "He has made his own mark as a runner. Even with what he achieved as a young athlete, he's done a lot of things I never did."

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