Steve Smythe looks back at the first five years of the newly-knighted British distance running great’s international career, 50 years on from his debut

Sir Brendan Foster started his international career 50 years ago and it lasted 10 years as he bowed out at the 1980 Olympics.

His first known race was the Catholic Diocesan Schools Cross-Country Championships in Sunderland in December 1962 when he was second to John Trainor and his first major race was the 1963 English Schools Championships at Chelmsford where he was fourth in his 440 yards heat in 55.5, which was not enough to make the final.

He showed more promise at cross-country (10th in the 1966 National youths cross-country at Sheffield) but little suggested he was a future world beater and at the end of 1969 and aged 21 he ranked 25th in the UK at both 1500m (3:47.1) and the mile (4:05.6) in that year’s rankings.

That all changed in 1970. Here we look at some of the major races of Foster’s career, with the full 10-year list available for AW subscribers in the Clubhouse (click here).


Commonwealth Games Trials 1500m, Leicester June 6, 2nd 3:42.8 (PB)

AW referred to him as a ‘revelation’ and Foster led through 1200m in 2:58.6. Though he had to give way to 1969 European champion John Whetton, his three-second PB ahead of John Kirkbride sealed a shock Commonwealth selection.

Ceylon Tea 2 miles, Crystal Palace, July 5, 2nd 8:30.8 (PB)

He was surprisingly the only athlete able to challenge Olympic 1500m champion Kip Keino and only lost contact in the last 800m. He finished a second down and missed Dick Taylor’s UK record by 0.6 of a second.

Commonwealth Games 1500m, Edinburgh, July 22, 3rd 3:40.6 (PB)

Ninth ranked, Foster again shocked by winning a battle for bronze with Pete Stewart by a hundredth of a second with Whetton fifth. Keino (3:36.6) and Dick Quax (3:38.1) took the other medals.

European Cup semi-final 1500m, Zurich, August 1, 3rd 3:48.6

As British No.1 at Edinburgh, Foster gained his first British selection and battled for third well behind France’s European mile record-holder Jean Wadoux (3:44.4).


Inter Counties Championships Mile, Leicester, May 31, 3rd 3:58.5 (PB)

His first sub-four came behind Walter Wilkinson (3:56.6) and Stewart (3:57.4).

Milan 1500m, July 1, 4th 3:39.4 (PB)

Although well behind Marty Liquori (3:36.0) and Francesco Arese (3:36.3), Foster went inside 3:40 for the first time.

AAA Championships 1500m, Crystal Palace, July 24, 3rd 3:40.7

Kiwi Tony Polhill (3:40.0) won from Stewart (3:40.4) but Foster’s third place ensured his European selection.

European Championships 1500m, Helsinki, August 15, 3rd 3:39.2

Two championships and two PBs as Foster led at 800m and battled to bronze behind Arese (3:38.4) and European indoor champion Henryk Sjordikowski (3:38.7) just ahead of Kirkbride’s PB (3:39.5).

Edinburgh Highland Games 2 miles, August 21, 2nd 8:24.8 (UK rec)

Emile Puttemans broke the world record with 8:17.8 but behind him Foster set a UK record as he won a tussle against Commonwealth 5000m champion Ian Stewart.


Emsley Carr Mile, Crystal Palace, June 10, 2nd 3:55.9 (PB)

Foster started Olympic year well with a huge PB to go third all-time in Britain but lost out to Peter Stewart’s British record of 3:55.3.

UK v Poland 1500m, Edinburgh, June 16, 1st 3:43.7

Foster gained his biggest win to date.

Stockholm Mile, July 5, 1st 3:57.2

Another victory and no one would have known that two months later the little-known Pekka Vasala, who shared Foster’s time, would win Olympic gold.

AAA Championships, Crystal Palace, July 15, 4th 3:39.3

He only missed his PB by 0.01 of a second but this was a mini-disaster as in the Olympic trials and the best ever domestic 1500m he was behind Peter Stewart’ British record (3:38.2), shock Ray Smedley (3:38.5) and Kirkbride (3:38.7).

UK v Finland v Spain 1500m, Helsinki, July 25, 2nd 3:42.0

Foster was given a second chance of Olympic selection in a run-off with Kirkbride and he did so easily. Vasala (3:41.2) was well ahead though Kirkbride got a reprieve as Stewart had to withdraw from the Munich team.

Olympic 1500m semi-finals, Munich, September 9, 3rd 3:38.2 (eq UK rec)

Foster qualified for the final in style, equalling Stewart’s UK record as Rod Dixon (3:37.9) won.

Olympic 1500m final, Munich, September 10, 5th 3:39.0

He led the opening lap and was still in medal contention on the last lap but ultimately fell 10 metres short behind Vasala (3:36.3), Keino (3:36.8), Dixon (3:37.5) and Mike Boit (3:38.4).


AAA Championships, 5000m, July 14, 1st 13:23.8 (PB)

In his first major 5000m, Foster won easily from Olympic bronze medallist Ian Stewart (13:31.0) and a top class field including newly-crowned 10,000m world record-holder Dave Bedford.

UK v Hungary 1500m, Crystal Palace, August 25, 2nd 3:38.5

Though not absolutely flat out, he effectively tied with future Olympic fifth-placer Frank Clement and just missed the British record.

Bank Holiday International 2 miles, August 27, 1st 8:13.68 (world rec)

Foster was paced to most of halfway in 4:05.4 (60.8, 60.6, 62.5, 61.5) and held on through the second half with laps of 61.9, 63.5, 63.2 and 59.7 to just get inside Lasse Viren’s world record (8:14.0).

European Cup Final 5000m, Edinburgh, September 9, 1st 13:54.8

In pouring rain and in a slow tactical race, Foster put in a 60.2 lap mid race to shake the field but needed a 57.6 last lap and fast last 150 metres to dispose of future European 10,000m champion Manfred Kuschmann and 1964 Olympic runner-up Harold Norpoth. Double Olympic champion Viren finished fifth.


Commonwealth Games 5000m final, Christchurch, January 29, 2nd 13:14.6 (UK rec)

It was one of the greatest 5000m duels in history as Foster smashed the UK record and went third in the world all-time but lost out to Kenyan Ben Jipcho (13:14.4) despite a 55.5 last 400m and 2:00.0 last 800m.

Commonwealth Games 1500m final, February 2, 7th 3:37.6 (UK rec)

Though well behind the real action, he set another UK record as Filbert Bayi (3:32.2) won in world record time from John Walker (3:32.5), Jipcho (3:33.2), Dixon (3:33.9), Graham Crouch (3:34.2) and Boit (3:36.8).

AAA 12-stage Road Relay 5 miles 900 yards, Sutton Coldfield, April 27, fastest 24:28 (lap record)

Helping his Gateshead club, this stunning run over the undulating park roads was at a faster pace than Ron Clarke’s celebrated world six miles track record at Oslo.

AAA Championships 5000m, Crystal Palace, July 13, 1st 13:27.4

Foster won by six seconds from Jos Hermens, courtesy of a 59.2 breakaway lap.

UK v Czechoslovakia 1500m, Edinburgh, July 26, 1st 3:41.2

Foster showed he could still win at the shorter races as he defeated Frank Clement (3:41.7).

Gateshead Games 3000m, August 3, 1st 7:35.2 (world rec)

At the opening of the new tartan track, and as newly-appointed sports and recreation manager for Gateshead, Foster made history at his own meeting.

Mike Baxter paced him through the first half (3:49.1) before he ran a solo 3:46.1 second half to take 2.6 seconds off Puttemans’ world record. His laps were 60.1, 60.5, 62.2, 61.2, 60.0, 62.1, 59.9 and 30.1 for the final 200m.

European Championships 5000m final, September 7, 1st 13:17.2

On a hot day, the Briton demolished the field with one of the greatest front running performances in a distance final in history.

He led through 3000m in 8:01.2 and then put a lap of 60.2 in followed by a lap of 62.8 to entirely break the field. Had he chosen to he could have challenged the world record but eased in as Kuschmann (13:24.0) won the battle for second ahead of Viren (13:24.6).

Coca-Cola Meeting 2 miles, Crystal Palace, September 13, 1st 8:23.0

In front of an excited capacity crowd, that year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year won from Smedley (8:25.8), with Viren fourth (8:25.8).

» AW subscribers can click here to read the full 10-year list of races in the AW Clubhouse

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