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21 Questions for Dave Bedford about marathons, Nike and Emil Zatopek

When Dave Bedford became interested in running, he was 14 years old and the world record holder was Emil Zatopek, who many regard as the greatest runner of all time, the first athlete to break the 29-minute barrier in the 10,000 metres.

Less than ten years later, Bedford broke the world record for the 10,000* in a time that was nearly two minutes faster than Zatopek’s record.

‘And believe me, I wasn’t two minutes better than Zatopek’ says Bedford, sitting in his front room in Hampstead this week (PODCAST HERE). The point he was making was that technology has always played a role in making great runners run faster, ‘from grass to cinder to rubber tracks, advances in physiology, psychology and running gear have always been part of athletics’.

We were talking about records and tech because Dave had sat on a plane watching Eliud Kipchoge go under 2 hours for the marathon, a time Bedford says he’d always questioned would be beaten in his lifetime. He was flying home from Chicago where he'd watched Kenya's Brigid Kosgei smash Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old women's marathon world record.

One thing that links the two performances was what they were wearing on their feet, the Nike Vaporfly Next (see Runner's World analysis of the Nike patents here.

This led to questions. Loads and loads of questions.

Should/will Nike’s Vaporfly be banned, as Speedo swimsuits were after record-fest at the Beijing Olympics in 2008?

What’s the difference between doping and wearing Nike’s shoes?

Should they be banned, or is it up to Adidas and ASICS to catch up?

ASICS is the IAAF’s official shoe partner. Seb Coe was a lifetime Nike ambassador. How does that play out?

How does the lobbying process work? Who does it and is it effective?

More broadly, how do we separate what Bedford calls the ‘essential entertainment, the circus, the Barnum and Bailey of sport’s marketing’ with authentic sporting performance?

Has this line ever been real, is the idea that sporting performance of the past was more authentic, just rose tinted mythology?

Then we moved on.

Why is there a running boom every Saturday morning when athletics can’t find a decent broadcast platform outside the major events? So does TV coverage matter anymore, or is the link between viewership and participation broken?

Did the London Marathon pave the way for Park Run?

Could a national governing body have created Park Run, or the London Marathon? Or does genuine disruption have to come from outside? If so, why? Is it about incentives, or culture, or is a form of corporate myopia? Or is it just busy-ness?

Home straight: Who was the best Spurs player he ever saw? Does he want to be in our Best Spurs Fans in the Sports Business list? What does he think about 118 118 (dicks)? How many pubs are on the London Marathon route and how many has he visited? And is London Pride the best beer in London?

Dave says yes to the last one. Best not to argue.

*Sportsbiz trivia: Dave was an Adidas athlete for most of his whole career, but painted Gola stripes on his shoes when he won the world record.

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