• Where Are They Now?

One third of Britain's golden trio: The Jarrow Arrow

Jo Carter February 2, 2012
Steve Cram held three of the four major titles at 1500m © Getty Images

Denied Olympic gold by his own team-mate, Steve Cram was part of a golden era for British middle distance running. In the space of less than three weeks in 1985, Cram set three world records over three distances. We look back at the career of the man nicknamed 'The Jarrow Arrow'.

Born in October 1960 on Tyneside, Cram started out as a 400m runner after being spotted by a local coach. Joining Jarrow & Hebburn Athletics Club at the age of 12, two years later he finished fourth at the English Schools Championship.

"Like most people I just played football at school and then the cross country season came around and we got kicked out the door and made to run around a muddy field," Cram told ESPN. "I ran a couple of races for my school and a coach from the local athletics club asked if I wanted to come down to the club. Before I knew it I was down there three nights a week. I originally did a lot of cross country and road races so I kind of grew into the track."

After launching his international career at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Cram made his Olympic debut at 19. With Great Britain boycotting the Moscow Games in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the athletes were under pressure from the British government not to compete, but led by Sebastian Coe, the British athletes competed under the Olympic flag.

With the likes of David Moorcroft and the thriving rivalry between Coe and Steve Ovett, British middle distance running was in a golden era. Boycott or not, for the 19-year-old Cram, it was an easy decision to make.

Sport and politics should never be bedfellows.

"As far as I was concerned, sport and politics should never be bedfellows, and I was only 19 - at that age you are just desperate to go the Olympics," he said. "It was a massive opportunity for me. I had been to the Commonwealths at 17, and I had Seb Coe and Steve Ovett ahead of me, who were big stars."

Cram finished eighth in the 1500m in a race in which Coe condemned Ovett to his first defeat over the distance in three years (Ovett returned the favour, beating Coe over his favoured 800m).

With Coe and Ovett setting the world standard, securing a place on the British team was nearly as hard as winning medals at major events. But with Ovett injured and Coe beaten to gold in the 800m by West Germany's Hans-Peter Ferner, Cram's big chance materialised at the 1982 European Championships in Athens. Crossing the line in a time of three minutes, 36.49 seconds, Cram won his first major medal, as he was crowned European 1500m champion.

"Steve and Seb were massive stars, they were a few years older than me and as they kept getting better they pushed the bar higher," Cram recalls. "I remember being challenged earlier in the year by Brendan Foster, who was a bit of mentor to me, and he said, 'When are you going to stop being a promising youngster and become a star?'

"Steve got injured and when Seb said he wouldn't be running the 1500 that left the way clear for me. It was my first major gold medal and I went on from there to win Commonwealth gold. I was a lot more confident going into my next race."

Ovett returned to action in the 1983 season ahead of the World Championships in Finland. While the 1980 and 1984 Olympics were subject to boycotts, all nations attended the World Championships. It was a battle between world record holder Ovett, his British team-mate Cram and American record holder Steve Scott.

"People forget that it was the first world championships where everybody was there," Cram said. The '80 and '84 Olympics were subject to boycotts, so the Worlds were the first time that all nations had attended in ten years. It was a true global championships and everybody was there. We thought at the time the Worlds might overtake the Olympics which were going through a difficult period. Perhaps more so than today, the World Championships were a big deal."

Steve Cram enjoyed a rich rivalry with Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett © Getty Images

In Helsinki's Olympic Stadium, Cram and Scott won their respective heats and semi-finals, while Ovett had finished second to Cram in the semi-finals. When the Moroccan, Said Aouita broke with just over a lap remaining, Cram stayed on his shoulder, and took the lead on the final bend, holding off Aouita and Scott to claim victory. Ovett found himself boxed in and could only manage a disappointing fourth.

Cram's victory in Helsinki saw him voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, having finished third behind decathlete Daley Thompson and snooker player Alex Higgins the previous year.

A nasty ankle injury dented Cram's preparations for the Los Angeles Olympics, but as world champion he had the benefit of guaranteed qualification.

"I almost broke my ankle in the early part of the 1984 season and I missed about three months' training," Cram said. "I did well to get back and I was fortunate that because I had won the world title the year before, I was pre-selected for the Olympics so I didn't have to go to trials as I wasn't really fit enough at that point."

In Los Angeles, the three British athletes - defending champion Coe, world champion Cram and world record holder Ovett - were among the leading contenders for gold. Ovett, who collapsed on the finish line after winning 800m gold earlier in the week, pulled out with a lap remaining, while Coe defended his title, holding off Cram, who was forced to settle for silver ahead of Spain's Jose Manuel Abascal.

"I went to LA hoping to win, I was a bit disappointed with silver, but it could have been nothing - I nearly didn't go at all," Cram said. "And of course I got beaten by Seb - nobody likes losing to a rival, but if I have got to lose, I'd rather lose to somebody great.

"Both Seb and Steve were both very difficult to race against in different ways, but Coe was probably a slightly bigger rival. He seemed to have so many ways of running a race, so it was a case of working out how to beat him. I felt that I eventually worked out how to beat Steve, but with Seb I was never quite sure."

Cram is a member of the BMW London 2012 Performance Team © Ben Gold

Cram was beaten only three times in 1985 and was unbeaten over 1500m and broken three world records within the space of 19 days and was the first man to run under 3:30.00 for the 1500m - his 1500m, Mile and 2000m times remain British records.

"One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't race more in 1985," Cram said. "I only ran nine or 10 times that year and I was in such great shape."

He was world, European and Commonwealth champion with an Olympic silver medal, but one of Cram's proudest moments was breaking the world record over a mile. It may no longer be competed at major events but, for Cram, following in the footsteps of the likes of Sir Roger Bannister, Coe and Ovett, it was a career-defining moment.

"There is a really big history and tradition in the sport, starting with Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile," he said. "One of my proudest moments is breaking the world record for the mile. It was great to join such an exclusive club - such great names as Bannister, Derek Ibbotson, Peter Snell, John Landy, Coe, Ovett."

Cram won the double at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, following up his 800m victory with gold in the 1500m. He signed up for both events at the European Championships later that summer, winning bronze in the 800m and defending his 1500m title, beating Coe to gold.

It would prove to be Cram's last major medal, and hampered by injury setbacks, he finished eighth in the 1987 World Championships after leading at the final bend. He was fourth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and was unable to return to his devastating best.

"I regret not taking some time out around 1987-88 to get my body a chance to catch up and recuperate," admitted Cram. "I just kept pushing all through my career, but as I got older my body kept breaking down more and more often and it was harder to come back from injuries as they became increasingly complicated."

After retiring from athletics in 1994, Cram followed in the footsteps of mentor Foster and established himself as a respected athletics commentator. On top of his television role, Cram was made Chancellor of Sunderland University in 2008 and is chairman of the English Institute of Sport.

A regular after-dinner speaker, Cram has been working with BMW recording an historical video, using archive footage to parallel Cram's record-breaking track career with the success of the BMW M3.

"I love doing motivational speaking, talking about sport in business and what makes athletes tick," Cram added. "There are a lot of similarities between sport and business so I have lots to keep me busy."

He will have to be content to watch this summer's action from the commentary box, but just as Kenneth Wolstenholme sealed his place in sporting history as the voice of England's 1966 World Cup victory, Cram could be the voice of some golden British performances in London's Olympic Stadium.

Steve Cram is a member of the BMW London 2012 Performance Team and was speaking from the set of the BMW Presents films which will be online from the middle of February. For more information please visit www.bmw.co.uk/london2012

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk