Team GB Profile: Steve Cram

The Jarrow Arrow relives the glory days of men’s middle distance running to reveal his racing highs, lows and rivalry with Coe and Ovett



steve cram

Few runners can be called legends - but Steve Cram is surely one of them. The ‘Jarrow Arrow’ was pitted against Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe in a decade of edge-of-the-seat athletics throughout the 1980s.

Over an illustrious career studded with victories and medals, the summer of 1985 stands out. Over a period of 19 days, Cram set world records in the 1500m, Mile and 2000m. His British 1500m record still stands.

We caught up with the running legend-turned-pundit to discover why Britain's middle-distance men are lagging behind the women, his London 2012 favourites and to find out about his relationship with Coe and Ovett, on and off the track. 

Football was my real love as a child. All I wanted to be was a footballer.

Once I started winning races for my athletics club I became interested in running. It was a different crowd from football, I got prizes and my name in the paper; I was quite shallow really.

When I was 17 the county schools’ championship catapulted me to national level. My teacher forgot to enter me and if someone had complained I hadn’t been entered, I’d have been disqualified. I ran 1500m in 3:42, the equivalent of a four-minute mile, mainly because I was so furious with the teacher.

I made the news and I got a telegram the next day inviting me to run at Crystal Palace the following week. I broke an age-group world record at that race and went on to the Edmonton Commonwealth Games. In ten days my life changed completely. Who knows what would have happened if that teacher had done their job properly!  

It was good to have Steve Ovett and Seb Coe established on the scene when I started running. I was able to do my own thing whilst press attention focused on them.

In the early days, I was closer to Steve and we’d more frequently run at meets together. Having had an apprenticeship with him, our relationship flipped in the mid-1980s when I started beating him.

Seb is a very different person now to what he was like as an athlete. He was very focused and I didn’t feel able to approach him. Since we’ve retired I’ve spent a lot more time with Seb and we’ll go for a beer, whereas Steve lives in Australia now.

Athletics used to be everywhere. When I ran in Oslo and in Nice in 1985 the races were live on BBC and ITV, when there were only four channels - more than 20 million people watched me race on a Tuesday night. Every May to September we’d fill 60-70 per cent of the newspapers’ back pages. It’s hard to imagine now.

There is an expectation for Mo Farah to win gold in London 2012. Think back to 2009 and it would have been thought brilliant for Mo to take a medal - we should still think like that. Mo’s going to be right up there, it’s going to really close, so I’m really looking forward to commentating on that.

I hope Paula Radcliffe has a good Games, because I know what she’s gone through. It would be a great story - she doesn’t even have to win - but if the nation got behind her and she could enjoy it that would be a result.

Football is partially to blame for our lack of depth in men’s middle-distance running. Football captures boys' imaginations at five and every dad wants his son to play football, even if they’re no good.

Once boys have had a crack at football, by ten or 11 they’re thinking they’re not cut out for sport. When you suggest joining the athletics club they’re not keen.

Most athletic clubs at an under-15 level have twice as many girls as boys. It’s easy to get girls to attend training as they haven’t had the same exposure to sport before they hit 11. It’s a sweeping generalisation, but it’s going around a lot these days.

I’ve been coaching Laura Weightman, a 1500m runner, for two years. If she makes Team GB, I’ll probably be most excited about watching her in London 2012. It’s so exciting to be working with someone going through the selection process. She has a great career ahead of her.

Winning the World Championships in 1983 was a career highlight. Steve Ovett, Steve Scott, three or four of us could have won that race. It was all about using the right tactics on the day, executing well and using your intelligence to predict what the other guys would do.

Another highlight was breaking the four-minute mile when I was 17. I’m almost as proud of being part of that exclusive little club as I am everything else.

Finishing fourth in the 1988 Olympics was the lowest point in my career. Preparations had gone perfectly until my last race in Rieti, Italy, where I pulled my calf muscle.

That 1500m Olympic final was just awful. A guy called Peter Rono of Kenya won the race. We let him win - Rono was running off the front and we were all watching each other. I got horribly boxed. I never really got over that. It was a combination of regretting that last race in Italy and wishing I’d run more tactically on the day. After that race was over I knew I’d missed my last shot at winning an Olympic medal.

My best running tip? Be patient. Running is a cumulative sport and your body adapts over a period of time. You get unfit slowly and you get fit slowly. If you return to running for the first time since you were 15, it’s going to take more than a couple of months to build up to your first marathon.

Amateur runners often do the same thing over again and hope to get better at it. Elite runners do long runs, shorts runs, hills, fartlek, track runs, and add all those into the mix. That’s something amateur runners should look into a little more.


Coach: Jimmy Hedley
Club: Jarrow & Hepburn
Career Highlights:
1986 - European Championships, 1500m gold, 800m bronze
           Commonwealth Games, 1500m gold, 800m gold
1984 - Los Angeles Olympics, 1500m silver
1983 - World Championships, 1500m gold
1982 - European Championships, 1500m gold
          Commonwealth Games, 1500m gold


Steve is supporting Nike’s sponsorship of the British 10K, which is taking place on 8th July 2012. Time to do more. Train with us at www.facebook.com/nikerunninguk #makeitcount.


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Amazing athelete at his peak.
Posted: 01/06/2012 at 07:59

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