By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom_17-11-11Like the two winners of the first London Marathon in 1981, Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen, David Bedford and Hugh Brasher will be hand-in-hand during next week's 32nd running of the event. Not literally, perhaps – but figuratively.

Bedford, who joined the London Marathon in 1986, takes the final step this year towards relinquishing the position of race director which he has carried out so spectacularly well in succession to Brasher's father Chris, who established the event with John Disley and stepped up to the position of Life President in 1995.

Thereafter, this former world 10,000 metres world record holder and darling of the British track – if not the Establishment – plans to take up a part-time role in the organisation and spend a little more time with his son Tom, a talented athlete in his own right, and at the snooker table. And if I know Dave Bedford, which I do a bit, in front of a dart board with a pint of London Pride close at hand. Or touring Europe on a Ducati.

Calls will now grow for Bedford to be suitably honoured for his part in what has been one of the greatest and most heart-warming sporting successes ever. Statistics indicate the scale and range of the London Marathon's achievement. The 2010 running of the event (pictured second image down), the first of five years under the name sponsorship of Virgin, raised a record of £50.6 million ($80.19 million/€61.29 million) for charity, bringing the total raised since the event began to over £500,000 ($792,400/€605,670). From an original field of around 7,000, the main event has grown in size to the point where a record 36,000 took part last year.

The race – on a course which is fast, but not superfast like, say, Rotterdam or Berlin – has seen one world record, with Khalid Khannouchi of the United States running 2 hours 5min 38sec in 2002, three area records, ten national records and – most importantly, a succession of races involving the world's best male and female competitors, in the able bodied and wheelchair races.

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Naturally, Bedford does not take credit for all of this; nor would he seek to. But huge swathes of it have happened particularly because of him – his character, his knowledge, his approach. He, with a hugely capable and hard-working team around him, has made the London Marathon continue to happen and thrive.

Not that it has all been beer, darts and smiles. Bedford didn't get where he is today by being Mr Nice every day of his life – he has a darker side, and woe betide those who discover it. As he put it recently in characteristically blunt language: "There are loads of w******s. But there's an awful lot of nice people too. As long as you know the difference, you can make it work."

It is Bedford's unpredictability that means he has a special place in the affections of Britain's sporting followers. We like those who surprise.

In 1970, aged 20, Bedford (pictured third image down) entered the Southern Cross Country Championships on Hampstead Heath and won the junior title over six miles. He then entered the senior race, which was held over nine miles, and won that too.

Eleven years later, in the early hours and at the end of a long night's drinking in his Luton nightclub, he took a bet that he couldn't run the London Marathon. (The irony!) This was the first London Marathon, which was due to be run later that morning. Having eventually got through to Brasher on the phone to confirm what was surely the latest entry to the London Marathon – another world record – everything was set. Stopping only to fortify himself with a nutritious curry – which was to make an unhappy and televised reappearance in the course of the race – Bedford set off for the Big Smoke and completed the course.

His contribution to the London Marathon has extended to stopping a rogue spectator attempting to run onto the course as the leading runners entered their finish in The Mall. Never renowned as a sprinter, Bedford showed he could be quick off the mark when it mattered.

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He's combative when required. As the phone info company – and I shan't name them, as Bedford wouldn't want me to give them any extra publicity – discovered after appropriating his trademark image of Zapata moustache and red running socks for their adverts (Bedford pictured fourth image down, left and the advert right) discovered when he sued them and forced them to desist.

It took £60,000 ($950,880/€726,805) in legal fees, and Bedford publicly labelled the company "b******s". He also gatecrashed one of their subsequent PR launches, getting his picture onto the front page of several newspapers. Glorious.

Bedford is outspoken. Genuinely. Refreshingly.

When I interviewed him in the London Marathon offices on the eve of the 2009 race, for instance, the task involved switching on a dictaphone, asking a couple of starter questions and then nodding encouragingly at the right moments. As many an opponent has realised, once Bedford starts he doesn't stop.

His passion for running was, as ever, unmistakable. In his position, well established, Bedford could have switched into cruise control in terms of PR years ago. No. On this occasion he voiced his disdain for the "lazy" British athletes who failed to work hard enough to challenge the Africans who had taken over distance events.

"There's no question about it," he said. "If you got the 20 top British male distance runners and put them on the training for three to four years that a dozen of us plus were doing in the '70s, they would be running more than a minute faster than they are now.

"If you walk up the stairs in our office and look at all the pictures of past winners you'll see we haven't exactly been bereft of talent. We had some amazing runners in the early years like Steve Jones, Charlie Spedding, Veronique Marot, Liz McColgan and several others. But what's happened in the last 30 years is that distance running has grown as a world event and it is harder today to be a champion than it was in the 1970s.

Dave Bedford_duo_April_15"With a couple of obvious exceptions, the reason why British runners don't run as fast as we were doing 30 years ago is because they don't train as hard. They are not prepared to train as hard. And what we are seeing now is what happens if you only commit to a certain level. Someone training today can run a mile in 3:58. But someone today is not prepared to do the training that allows you to run in 3:42. Life and health have got better, medical support has got better, but at the same time the commitment, the desire to do whatever is necessary has drifted away."

And the naming of names? OK.

"Mo Farah – for an athlete of that ability not to make the final of the 2008 Olympic Games was an absolute disgrace – and the people responsible for his preparation must take some of the blame. I think we have seen a significantly more motivated Mo since then – he can move up the next couple of steps now."

Over the years, those exceptional Brits who have bridged the gap to world class – such as Liz McColgan, world 10,000m champion in 1991 and race winner five years later, such as Paula Radcliffe, world marathon record holder and three times a London winner – have had no greater champion than Bedford.

But even here, Bedford has been unpredictable. For instance, while being interviewed at last year's Samsung Diamond League meeting at Crystal Palace, where he set his world record of 27:30.80 on a Friday evening in 1973 (pictured fifth image down, leading), Bedford made a big point of saying that he didn't think Radcliffe was a serious contender for the 2012 Olympic title.

It was startling, not to say shocking. Was he simply trying to prevent a build up of the expectation that has been laden upon Radcliffe at the last two Olympics, where she continued to experience a barren return for her talent? Maybe – after all, Bedford knows all about going into an Olympics with a crippling weight of expectation on one's shoulders, even if, at the 1972 Munich Games, it was he himself who did most to up the ante over his chances in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres – both of which were won by Finland's Lasse Viren.

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"Stand by your beds and watch me win a gold medal for Britain" he had written – really? – in his exclusive column with The Sun newspaper before the Olympics got underway in West Germany. (This also caused a row in the days when athletes were not supposed to receive any payment, and Bedford was shopped to the International Olympic Committee by, ironically, Chris Brasher, who was then athletics correspondent of The Observer.) In Munich, a year after losing out on a medal in the European Championships, Bedford finished 12th in the 5000m and sixth in the 10,000m, after which he ran, sobbing, into a nearby wood.

The crying shame of Bedford's career, however, was that injuries prevented him ever showing what a brilliant marathon runner he could be. He was made to be a marathon champion. Perhaps all those miles in training – he was said to run more than 200 miles a week at his peak – had been too much. But perhaps not. Ten years after his 1981 effort, he indicated some of his enduring ability by running the marathon in a smidge over three hours.

Running first defined Bedford, as he told me during our "conversation" of 2009.

"Without running, what was I?" he said. "I was a spotty kid, not good enough to play football for the school team, blinked whenever a cricket ball was thrown at me, and then all of a sudden you can win a race three times round the park. Imagine how good that feels.

"You have to marvel in the joy of personal success. And the great thing about the London Marathon is that every year 35,000 people walk away from it and feel as good as I have about my own athletic journey.

"Different journey, different level, of course. But the same feeling. What could beat that? Only the Olympics, surely."

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Since then, of course, Bedford has resigned from his position as manager of the London 2012 marathon because of his "frustration" with the Games organisers. The man who famously used to run in red socks doesn't like red tape.

Bedford told the Evening Standard: "I quit my role; I resigned.

We [the London Marathon] are a professional business run by professionals and it was very difficult to work for another organisation who, in the main, have never organised an event of their own."

Bedford also described the handling of the decision to cut out East End boroughs from the marathon route as "appalling", according to the newspaper.

"Had the 2012 organisers engaged with Tower Hamlets and told them what was happening and why, it would have have been alright but they didn't," he said.

"They dropped it on them as a fait acompli and that's not the way you should treat a partner.

"It was done appallingly and I imagine when [London 2012 chairman] Seb [Coe] made the peace with the [East End] politicians, he also apologised at the way they had been treated."

Say what you mean, Dave. Oh. You always have.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames. Rowbottom's Twitter feed can be accessed here