SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
April 19, 1976
Brendan Foster, England's star middle-distance runner, is a ray of golden hope in the forbidding streets of industrial Gateshead
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April 19, 1976

Howay, Big Bren! Ye're Doin' Us Prood!

Brendan Foster, England's star middle-distance runner, is a ray of golden hope in the forbidding streets of industrial Gateshead

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But what really sent him "over the moon"—and Foster's Olympic prospects soaring—was Long's appointment in February as manager of Britain's distance runners for the Montreal Games. Long says, "I haven't been to an Olympics since London in 1948 because I just couldn't afford to go. I couldn't even afford to be in Rome when Brendan won his European championship. Now, well, I'm just thrilled to bits."

Foster figures to stay in one piece. A low-key chap with a pulse rate idling at a cool 45 beats per, he contends, "The Olympics is just another race. Treat it any differently and you can be greatly disappointed because anything can happen—a pulled muscle, the flu, anything." He recalls the time when Long, the former walking champion of Durham County, fell prey to an untimely gastrointestinal attack. "They reckon Stan was a good walker but he missed out in the nationals because of too many cucumber sandwiches on the train."

Nor is Foster short on confidence. In Britain's dual meet with Russia last year, after he triumphed in the 1,500 with an electrifying finishing kick, he was asked at what point he thought he would win. "When they picked me to run," he said. And although Foster insists that "The five's me event," he may also compete in the 10,000 in Montreal. Attempting the distance for the first time last summer, Foster not only outdistanced the U.S.'s Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic marathon champion, but he also won in the fastest time of the year, 27:45.4.

"Whatever happens in Montreal," Foster says, "I'll come back to Gateshead and find I've still got food to eat, a job to do and my friends. Win or lose, it would be wrong if it was any different." He feels it would also be wrong for him to accept the $60,000 he was offered to join the pro track circuit. "Running is hard enough," he says, "without having to do it for a living."

Foster could do without the hometown pressure as well. In fact, in enlisting a top international field for last year's Gateshead Games, he inadvertently helped his cause by including New Zealand's Rod Dixon, who beat him in the 5,000. "It took a lot of the heat off," Foster claims. "Now people here know I can lose, which is a rather nice spin-off from an unpleasant afternoon."

All of which he hopes will help ward off other unpleasant happenings such as the time when, out for his morning tour in the pouring rain, he became ill and started retching. Almost immediately, a passing car skidded to a stop, a man jumped out and rushed over and asked Foster for his autograph.

Foster attributes the untamed enthusiasm to deprivation. "People have never had much here," he says. "Nobody brings great culture here, no theater, not even good soccer. Everything that's good seems to happen somewhere else. So horizons have been limited. People's ambitions have been confined."

Foster has succeeded royally in raising the consciousness level in more ways than one. In February, while he was being invested as a Member of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth said to him, "I hope this doesn't interfere with your training." "No, ma'am," said Brendan Foster, M.B.E., "I already ran seven miles in Hyde Park this morning."

The Queen smiled.

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