The first Birmingham International Marathon is to take place in October 2017
Olympic medallist Ian Stewart (pictured above, right) says a marathon returning to Birmingham’s streets could prove pivotal in his home city’s bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
Handsworth-born Stewart, 67, enjoyed his greatest achievement at the quadrennial multi-sport event when he struck gold in the 5000m in Edinburgh in 1970.
He would love to see the city host the Games for the first time and claims Birmingham would be a serious contender due to its reputation for staging world-class sporting events.
According to Stewart, that status will only be enhanced when the annual Birmingham International Marathon debuts in October 2017 – the city’s first 26.2-mile race in 32 years.
Like the Great Birmingham Run half-marathon and Great Birmingham 10k, it will be managed by the Great Run Company, in partnership with Birmingham City Council.
City leaders are mulling over whether to bid for the Commonwealth Games, but Stewart, formerly UK Athletics’ head of endurance, has no doubts Birmingham would be a great host.
“The city’s track record for staging world-class events is phenomenal, and staging a world-class marathon will only help any bid to host the Commonwealth Games,” said Stewart, who won 5000m bronze at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
“The IAAF will tell you the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham in 2003 is the best they’ve ever staged. They’re coming back in 2018 and we’ve also hosted the European Athletics Indoor Championships.
“The quality of events the city has delivered is second to none. They’re all feathers in the cap for any Commonwealth Games bid, as will be the Birmingham International Marathon.
“When the city staged only its first Great Birmingham Run, the IAAF asked if we could incorporate the World Half Marathon Championships because they knew we would deliver.”
Despite being more than 17 months away, 8500 people have already registered an interest in the race.
Former Birchfield Harrier Stewart believes it has the potential to become a huge fixture in the running calendar due its October timing.
“At that time of year, it could incorporate qualifying trials for the following year’s major championships,” he added.
“The London Marathon doubled up as the trials for this year’s Rio Olympics but, with all due respect, I feel it’s very close to the Games. Athletes have only got a few months to recover.
“The Birmingham marathon is a great idea and I believe we have a real opportunity to build it into a big international event.
“We’re in a central location in the country and with it becoming more and more difficult to get into the London Marathon, why wouldn’t people come to Birmingham and run?
“We’re also giving people plenty of notice to prepare for 2017, and have stepping stones along the way.
“People who have just run the 10km can now progress up to the half-marathon. Then they’ll have a year to get ready for the marathon.”
Stewart believes the benefits will be felt further afield than the route, which includes landmarks like Alexander Stadium – the home of British Athletics – Villa Park, Edgbaston Stadium and the Bull Ring.
“We’re bidding to become the European Capital of Running but with the number and quality of events we stage, we should already have that title,” he said.
“The marathon will be a good thing for the whole city. We’ll be welcoming visitors from abroad and encouraging local people to become active.
“Charities will also benefit. The fact Birmingham Children’s Hospital alone had 600 people running the 10km to raise money says it all.
“Just think how many great causes will benefit from the marathon, which will be a much bigger event.
“The money the London Marathon brings in for charities is incredible and I don’t see why it would be any different here.”
To register an interest in the first Birmingham International Marathon visit greatrun.org.