THE VOICE

BREN­DAN FOS­TER TALKS TO EUAN CRUM­LEY ABOUT THE END OF A BROAD­CAST­ING ERA IN ATH­LET­ICS

Athletics Weekly - - Spotlight - PIC­TURES: MARK SHEAR­MAN

BUT for an overly of­fi­cious team man­ager, Bren­dan

Fos­ter would have made his broad­cast­ing de­but at one of the most sem­i­nal mo­ments in Bri­tish ath­let­ics his­tory.

Hav­ing com­peted in the 10,000m at the 1980 Olympics, he was ap­proached by the BBC fol­low­ing the race to sit along­side David Cole­man and pro­vide anal­y­sis of the men’s 1500m fi­nal a few days later.

Hav­ing hap­pily agreed to the re­quest, and ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing the role he might play in ob­serv­ing what be­came a le­gendary tus­sle be­tween Steve Ovett and Se­bas­tian Coe, he ap­proached the Bri­tish team man­age­ment to con­firm he was ok to stay on in Rus­sia rather than come back im­me­di­ately, as was orig­i­nally planned.

“They didn’t have pun­dits in those days – you didn’t have lots of ex sports­men do­ing TV,” says Fos­ter as he takes up the story.

“The BBC head of sport, Alan Hart, had come to me and said ‘would you join us in the com­men­tary box for the big event – Coe v Ovett?’. I said: ‘That would be fantastic but what would I do?’. His an­swer was: ‘Sit next to David Cole­man, he’ll com­men­tate on the race and you’ll give us your views’.

“He told me to go and see the Bri­tish Olympic As­so­ci­a­tion about it, so I did.

“They said it would be won­der­ful but the Bri­tish team man­ager said to me:

‘My re­spon­si­bil­ity is to get you back to Lon­don to­mor­row and the race isn’t on un­til Saturday’.

“I told him ‘but the BBC have said that if I just go to their ho­tel that they will pick up the tab and get me home from Mos­cow. But the man­ager said to me: ‘No, no, no… my re­spon­si­bil­ity to get you back to Lon­don and when you get back there you’re dis­charged’.”

There was to be no budg­ing.

“My first com­men­tary should have been the Olympic 1500m fi­nal be­tween Coe and Ovett but in­stead I ended up watch­ing it on telly,” adds Fos­ter. “I think it prob­a­bly worked out bet­ter be­cause it was one of David’s great com­men­taries.”

It wouldn’t be too long, how­ever, un­til Fos­ter be­gan to work with a man who

started out as an ac­quain­tance but be­came a great friend – he and Cole­man first op­er­at­ing in tandem as they de­scribed the ac­tion at a cross coun­try in Gateshead in the early win­ter of 1980.

There are very few big mo­ments in the sport to have hap­pened since which have not been sound­tracked by Fos­ter’s dis­tinc­tive North East tones.

He has com­men­tated on nine Olympics, ev­ery Com­mon­wealth Games since 1982 and ev­ery IAAF World Cham­pi­onships since their in­cep­tion in 1983. How­ever this year’s edi­tion – in Lon­don – will be his last lap be­hind the mi­cro­phone as broad­cast­ing re­tire­ment from the BBC beck­ons. If ev­ery­thing goes to plan, one of his last du­ties will be to de­scribe an­other global 10,000m vic­tory for Mo Farah be­fore the knight of the realm says farewell to the track and hits the road.

It would seem a fit­ting fi­nale for Fos­ter’s 37-year-old jour­ney.

“The first event I did with David was in Novem­ber 1980,” says Fos­ter, a Euro­pean cham­pion over 5,000m as well as a Com­mon­wealth cham­pion and Olympic bronze medal­list over 10,000m. “The night be­fore the event, I met him for a drink and at around 8pm he said to me ‘right, I’m off’. I said to him: ‘What do you mean? I thought we were go­ing to have din­ner’.

“He said: ‘I’m go­ing to get room ser­vice and study the run­ners.’

“I thought: ‘Bloody hell, David Cole­man is swot­ting up the night be­fore a race and he’s the doyen of com­men­tary?’ That’s when I thought I’d bet­ter do some­thing sim­i­lar. I just thought you turned up!

“He was the leg­end of broad­cast­ing. He com­men­tated on the Olympics, the World Cup football, he did Sport­snight, he did Grand­stand. And one of his claims to

“MY FIRST COM­MEN­TARY SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE 1500m FI­NAL BE­TWEEN COE AND OVETT IN 1980 BUT I ENDED UP WATCH­ING IT AT HOME ON THE TELLY IN­STEAD”

BREN­DAN FOS­TER

fame was that when the Bea­tles flew back from their all-con­quer­ing tour of Amer­ica, the land­ing at Heathrow co­in­cided with Grand­stand be­ing on the air so they took the Grand­stand stu­dio to Heathrow and brought The Bea­tles in to have a chat with David live on air.

“When they walked into the room

Ge­orge Har­ri­son said to Paul McCart­ney ‘blimey, we must have made it – David Cole­man wants to talk to us!’”

Fos­ter did his home­work, learned his new trade and is one of the few broad­cast­ers re­main­ing whose voice is in­trin­si­cally linked with the sport in which they work, al­most as if be­com­ing part of the fab­ric.

When Cole­man re­tired, he was joined in the com­men­tary box by Steve Cram and they will form the ful­crum of an event in Lon­don which many hope will help to in­spire the gen­eral public in much the same the way as the at­mos­phere cre­ated by Lon­don 2012. As founder of the Great North Run, Fos­ter is no stranger to a line of work which in­volves the aim of get­ting more peo­ple out there and be­ing ac­tive.

“When you’re a run­ner and you came through the era I came through – peo­ple used to laugh at you when you were out run­ning be­cause it wasn’t the thing to do,” he says. “They’d shout at you and not many peo­ple were out run­ning – if ever you were out in your car and you saw an­other run­ner then chances are you’d know them. There weren’t that many of us about.

“So you be­come like an evan­ge­list – you per­suade peo­ple to come for a run with you, or you per­suade them to en­ter an event, or to come along to the club.

“It was a very mi­nor­ity ac­tiv­ity but you en­cour­age oth­ers to run and that’s what we’ve been do­ing ever since. I be­lieve run­ning is good for you and that it should be en­cour­aged.

“If I hadn’t been a good run­ner, I would have been a bad run­ner – but I would still have been a run­ner. I would have been watch­ing it on the telly or run­ning in fun runs.”

When it comes to the elite end of the sport, it has un­doubt­edly hurt to see ath­let­ics on the wrong end of a seem­ingly end­less stream of body blows in re­cent times.

As he sur­veys the land­scape ahead of this forth­com­ing festival in the UK cap­i­tal, how­ever, Fos­ter re­mains up­beat – largely due to the pres­ence of Coe at the head of the IAAF.

“I’m in an op­ti­mistic mood be­cause my room-mate from1978, who shares ex­actly the same val­ues I do about sport and about ath­let­ics, is the pres­i­dent of the IAAF now,” he adds. “And I know his in­ten­tion would be the same as mine – which is to put the sport in a po­si­tion where it didn’t have the shadow of dop­ing cast over it.

“I think ath­let­ics is the most dili­gent of sports in terms of how it re­acts to peo­ple cheat­ing. I am op­ti­mistic of the fu­ture largely be­cause of Seb and his ap­proach.

“In sport and in life, you need a lit­tle bit of luck. At the mo­ment, the sport is go­ing through a bit of a trough and thank god

Seb is try­ing to lift it out of that trough this year at the scene of his big­gest tri­umph – the Olympic Sta­dium.”

It was at that venue five years ago when Fos­ter con­ducted one of his favourite broad­casts as Farah un­for­get­tably achieved the first of his Olympic dou­bles. An­other mo­ment of golden glory would round things off nicely.

“I’d rather go at a time when it’s go­ing to be on a high,” says Fos­ter. “Mo has agreed that we’ll step off the stage to­gether. Hope­fully he steps off with a gold medal and I step off with a…pint of lager!”

With that, Fos­ter de­parts with a dis­tinc­tive chuckle. It will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see what sto­ries Lon­don 2017 gives him to tell.

“I’M IN AN OP­TI­MISTIC MOOD BE­CAUSE MY ROOM-MATE FROM 1978, WHO SHARES THE SAME VAL­UES I DO ABOUT SPORT, IS NOW PRES­I­DENT OF THE IAAF”

BREN­DAN FOS­TER

Hang­ing up the mic: Bren­dan Fos­ter will re­tire from

com­men­tat­ing with the BBC af­ter Lon­don 2017 Bren­dan Fos­ter: lead­ing the way in the

5000m fi­nal at the 1974 Com­mon­wealth Games

Fond farewell: Fos­ter hopes to com­men­tate on more golden glory for Mo Farah

Recog­ni­tion: re­ceiv­ing a life­time achieve­ment award

from Prince Harry in April

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