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Lachie Stewart reflects on 10,000m gold at the 1970 Commonwealth Games

by Lucille Le Souef (2020-10-30)

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The sweep up the hill into Bonhill demands total concentration as snow clatters against the windscreen and an April morning becomes as dark as Hell during a power strike.
A figure emerges suddenly and runs steadily down the hill towards Balloch.

'That was probably my son Glen,' says Lachie Stewart, legend and great grandfather as he peers into the blizzard for definite confirmation. 'He likes a run.' 

So, too, did the irrepressible Lachie.

The climate of West Dunbartonshire is far removed from that of the Gold Coast but Stewart, 75 in the summer, remains a hero for all seasons.

His gold medal at the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970 stands as a seemingly eternal moment of Scottish sporting history.

Lachie Stewart won gold in the 10,000m at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh

Stewart, now 75, proudly shows off his gold medal from the 1970 Games

'It is strange,' he says.

'People in their 40s and 50s always come up to me to tell me that they watched it on television. I still get asked to talk about it, too.

'I went around schools four years ago when the Games were in Glasgow to tell the kids about running and the gold medal.
It was amazing to see them so interested in it all.'

Ah, the medal. Stewart produces it from a box. 'It's a wee bit tarnished now,' he says. 'It needs a good clean. It has been up in the attic for years.'

It prompts an immediate question about Stewart's day in the sun. 'Actually it was a day in the rain,' he says of his victory at Meadowbank.

'I won it in Scottish weather.' 

Further comment on the golden moment has to wait. First, there is talk of horse troughs, orthodontics, late-night training, and the model of Bismarck, battleship not statesman, in the garage. It is perhaps best to engage these subjects in order.

'I became a runner at school,' he says.
'I was good on sports days and decided to keep at it. I won the Scottish championships at 16 at Hamilton racecourse and that kind of tied me to the sport.' Ah, Hamilton racecourse.


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'The facilities in those days were not quite what they are today,' he says.
'I remember at Vale of Leven we used to have a hut up at Jamestown.

'It was like a big double garage but people were always breaking in and stealing the copper pipes. When Dumbarton and Clydesdale Harriers came to us they had to wash in the burn.

'At Hamilton at the championships in March, we had to break the ice in the horse troughs and wash there.' 

And now the orthodontics.

Stewart was combining his running with work as a dental technician.

'I used to work overtime when I was not at night school,' he says. 'So, I did my training runs at night when I came home. I would run through Alexandria at 10.45 at night.' 

This combination of full-time employment and training would continue throughout his athletic career.

Stewart, now 75, is a Scottish athletics hero for his achievement in front of a home crowd

'I had to work for a living.

I have no complaint about that - I enjoyed it - but it meant I had to fit in training,' he says.

When employed at the dental hospital on Sauchiehall Street, he would spend his lunch hours pounding the city streets. 'I then decided to run to and from my work from my home near Hampden,' he says.

The location of his home led him to a hobby that became something more.
'My wife and I walked over to Queen's Park one night and I saw the model ships in the ponds,' he says of a time over half a century ago.

He has since made scores of them. They are models of precision. He throws his hand at his wall where books on great ships squeeze into a bookcase.

'I am determined that they are accurate down to the last detail,' he says.

'They are all powered too and I sail them in ponds. Do you want to see Bismarck?'

Stewart, here with his gold medal, says people still approach him to talk about that run

Precision models of ships - fully powered in most cases - are another passion of Stewart's

Ah, Bismarck.

Stewart walks past a kitchen table where a ship is under construction to enter a garage where Bismarck, all 12ft and 8ins of her, lurks against a wall. Replicas of paddle steamers and fishery protection vehicles lie in its considerable wake.

'It has been a great thing for me,' he says.
'When I was out training, I would be thinking: 'How do I get a model submarine to submerge? When it came to racing, the brain was more focused.

'You know, I never had a coach. The nearest thing to it was a book I read. I was never much cop at school but I was a good student when I went into my job.

I won an award as a young dental technician.

'I could choose two books as a prize. I picked a book on dentistry and another by Franz Stampfl, who trained Roger Bannister. I used some of its methods but I was self-taught.'

The boy who won the school sports days became a racer who could compete all over Europe.
'I would fly out on the Friday or Saturday then race on the Sunday. I would take a leave of absence from my job to fly back on the Monday,' he says.

There was regularly excess baggage. 'Aye, I won a lot,' he says, nodding to another corner of the room crammed with trophies.

But what of his biggest win, the race that defined his career?

In the best of traditions, Stewart had to slay a giant to emerge triumphant. Aussie Ron Clarke was one of the great athletes, a holder of world records on 19 different occasions. Stewart was realistic but not daunted.

Stewart at his home in Bonhill where he has a collection of replica boats that he has built

'I was experienced,' he says.

'I had won a few Scottish championships. I had been at the Empire Games in Jamaica in 1966, albeit as a steeplechaser. But I set the fastest time in the world about five weeks before the Games in the Scottish championships at Meadowbank.

'I went into it thinking: 'If everything goes well I could get a medal'. 

'The received wisdom was that Clarke would win with Dick Taylor of England second.

But Stewart forced both back a place.

'Clarke was a god compared to everyone else. He would burn everybody off in races but when he could not do that he was vulnerable. I was never beaten in a sprint finish. My idea was: 'If anyone goes early, go with them'.

The two sides of the Commonwealth Games gold medal Stewart won back in 1970

'They broke away with seven laps to go and I tucked myself in with them.

There was a further break and me, Clarke and Taylor opened a gap. I thought that I could win bronze then.

'But with two laps to go I said: 'I could win this'. For some reason, I felt it was easy. I was so comfortable.

'With 100 metres to go, I just felt I was running on air.
There was an elation. I knew I was going to win.' 

He did. To the sort of roar that would have graced Hampden. His first reaction was characteristic. 'I went up to Clarke and shook his hand.

'I told him: 'I am sorry to be the one who had to beat you.

You have always been an idol of mine'. He just nodded. He was a professional athlete in all but name. We were working-class guys.'

Stewart, an amateur runner, had to combine training with work as a dental technician

Stewart took part in the 5,000m final the next week.

He finished down the field in another extraordinary Scottish occasion as Ian Stewart beat Ian McCafferty for a Caledonian 1-2 with Kip Keino of Kenya, one of the greatest ever distance runners, finishing third.

'That was it, that was the end of the Games, that was the Saturday,' he says.
'I went back to work on the Monday and there was a Saltire on my chair.' 

This laconic, downbeat note is a product of Stewart's modesty but he is aware of the significance of his run.

'If you train hard, run hard, it hardens you up for life,' he says.

'It gives you a better attitude. It gives you a more positive outlook on life. If you adored this write-up and you would certainly such as to get more information regarding learn what to look for in choosing an orthodontic office. Learn how treatments today differ and why. Learn about the cutting edge of the profession and the services a quality office can provide. Dive into the world of airway treatment and headache healing. Dr. Dischinger will show you how to achieve a spectacular smile with superior customer service. kindly check out our own web page. ' He is standing outside, having accompanied me to the front gate.

The snow swirls around his wiry fame. There is nary a shiver at the recalled memory of the past or in deference to the chill of the present.


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