Mike Rowbottom: Ian Stewart joins his old mate Brendan Foster at Nova International – where the target is European expansion

Saturday, 09 February 2013
mikepoloneckIan Stewart's contacts within the world of athletics have been some of his greatest assets as he has promoted the domestic sport's major indoor and outdoor meetings for the last 20 years.

And in the wake of the 64-year-old former European and Commonwealth 5,000 metres champion's acrimonious departure from UK Athletics contacts have paid off again as his old British team-mate and sometime training partner Brendan Foster has offered him a new job at his company Nova International, where Stewart will work as consultant to the Great Run series.

For Stewart - who was also in charge of UKA's endurance events until being replace by his deputy, John Nuttall, in December - the role will be partially familiar, given his input over the years to helping Nova assemble international fields for its Great Runs, Great CityGames and Cross Country events.

Eric Wilkins, Nova's chief executive, has expressed his confidence that Stewart – whose wife, the former US high hurdler Stephanie Hightower, is President of USA Track & Field - will help the company maintain their commitment to attracting "the very best athletes" to their leading events.

"Ian Stewart's reputation as one of Britain's best ever distance runners, his work with the current crop of British endurance athletes and his role organising the best annual track meetings in the country mean that he will be an important addition to our team," Wilkins said.

stewartkeinofivekedinIan Stewart tracks Kenya's Kip Keino en route to a historic 5,000m win at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh

Stewart, who will take up his new role within the next few weeks, added: "Having collaborated with Brendan Foster on a number of projects in the past, I'm looking forward to this change in career direction."

It's something of an old pals' act - but it looks likely to be moving in very new directions soon as Foster's ambitions to change and expand Nova International remain highly active.

The Great CityGames have made an increasingly popular virtue of showcasing athletics in city centre settings - employing portable sections of track and runways which conform with international regulations - where spectators can get a close view of some of the world's best performers. For free.

Thus far the Great CityGames venues have been in Nova's heartland of Newcastle, where for the last four years it has dovetailed with the Bupa Great North Run, and in Manchester, where it has been programmed alongside the Bupa Great Manchester Run, producing an opening flourish which even Stewart will find hard to top at the first edition in 2009 when Usain Bolt turned up to produce a world best performance of 14.35sec for the straight 150m on the regulation track laid out in Deansgate.

boltmanUsain Bolt set a world best for 150m at the 2009 Great CityGames in Manchester 

Now the Nova plan is to export the format and establish a presence in iconic city centres within Europe.

"It's a very real ambition," a Nova spokesperson told insidethegames. "We have the track, we have the expertise. Why not?"

Conversations are already well underway with a number of city authorities and athletics governing bodies to export the brand.

"Over the course of the next 12-15 months we can take this further," the spokesperson added. "The next Great CityGames to be launched are most likely to be somewhere in Europe."

So where next? Paris, with the Eiffel Tower in the background?  The Marienplatz in Munich? The Grand Place in Brussels? Nova aren't saying - yet. But if and when it happens, it will be somewhere special.

"We will be seeking iconic city centre venues with fascinating and memorable backdrops," our spokesperson commented. "We feel that with any of our major events we are always looking for an iconic shot. As far as the Great North Run is concerned, we have that with our image of the Tyne Bridge and the Red Arrows fly -past.

motwomilessept12Mo Farah wins the two miles at the Great North CityGames last September 

"The Great CityGames is a concept that has captured people's imaginations. It's a different way of showcasing athletics. We can't expect London 2012 six times a year, even though we might like it.

"This is a format which allows us maybe to gain an advantage in terms of presentation over sports like football or rugby, which need to take place in stadiums.

"Brendan is a very driven, very ambitious man, and we want to expand and develop our business. These are exciting times for us."

The new approach to presentation of a venerable sport chimes in with the recent efforts made within the IAAF's Samsung Diamond League programme to highlight athletics disciplines that have not previously earned much attention - such is the philosophy, for instance, behind the staging of the men's and women's shot put at the Zurich Diamond League a day before the main meeting in the unusual setting of Zurich's cavernous Hauptbahnhof.

Other sports, too, are tuning in to the new vibe of flexibility, portability - squash, for instance, desperate to tick as many boxes as possible as it seeks an entry to the Olympic club, has made much of its new ability to showcase itself in state-of-the-art courts which can be set up in shopping precincts or alongside pyramids.

So there's a whole new continent out there for Nova – and Stewart – to conquer. Will it be long before Stewart proves himself a European champion once again?

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. To follow him on Twitter click here.
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