Ian Stewart was one of the great ones in British distance running in the late 1960s and 1970s. The European 5,000m champion in 1969, the Commonwealth champion in 1971 and the Olympic bronze medalist at 5,000 meter, Stewart was also a World Champion in the World Cross. Stewart was a tough and gutty runner. Stewart loved the sport as he has devoted most of his adult life to British athletics.
Many know that Ian Stewart had devoted the last twenty years of his life to growing the sport in the UK but also the world. Like Brendan Foster, David Bedford, Alan Pascoe, Ian took his athletic experience and worked to make the sport a better sport.
Since 2006, I was lucky enough to visit the UK and observe most of the major meetings that UKA produced. Ian Stewart’s hands and heart were in much of that. From orchestrating fantastic fields in races, to giving young Brits and Americans chances to not only develop as an athlete, but also to make a pay day that allows them to develop, Ian Stewart crafted a more modern sport.
In my mind, the BBC broadcasts of the former AVIVA series were some of the best TV coverage of our sport that I have ever seen. Ian Stewart got it. He was so proud of how well presented and prepared his staff was in managing these events. I found lessons at each event, and when I asked Ian Stewart for his views, it may have been indelicate at times, but it was honest and enlightening.
I also watched what Ian did, not just what he said. He always had time for young athletes, and even, and I do not know how he did this, put up with the Prefontaine fans who would venture up to him in Eugene, and say, ” We know who you are and what you did.” To this day, I believe Ian considers his 1972 Olympic final one of his lesser competitions. Why? Because he did not live up to the standards he had set for himself. Ian Stewart is harder on himself than anyone else.
Four years ago, Ian Stewart, at the request of Neils de Vos, mentored UK endurance. Using his experience and the experience of his mates, Brendan Foster, David Bedford, Wendy Sly, Ian worked to provide better training venues, coaching relationships and racing opportunities for British distance runners. As a former world class athlete, Stewart understood the training and support needed to develop. He was instrumental in helping Mo Farah begin his work with Alberto Salazar. Stewart was a student of the sport, and he took pride in the performances of British athletes. In Daegu, Ian took pride in Mo Farah’s development and was supremely confident of Mo taking the double in London. The night before the 10,000m in London 2012, I received a note, ” Saw Mo’s workouts last week, he is ready.”
I am personally disappointed to see Ian Stewart leave UKA, now British Athletics. His legacy in both making British athletics meetings great sports entertainment and providing opportunities for British athletes (and American athletes) should not be underestimated. UKA seems to going through many changes at once, one wonders how they will accomplish all that they have put on their list of changes.
Ian Stewart is a talented coach, media producer and marketer. He has provided huge positives for the sport of athletics in the UK. I look forward to seeing what he does for his next projects!