Sebastian Coe’s yeoman services to world athletics, London 2012 and the IOC | Sunday Observer

Sebastian Coe’s yeoman services to world athletics, London 2012 and the IOC

9 January, 2022
Lord Sebastian Coe
Lord Sebastian Coe

Sebastian Newbold Coe, Baron Coe, CH, KBE, Hon FRIBA has dominated all spheres in world athletics for over four decades. He is the current President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), having elected on August 19, 2015. He is often referred to as Seb Coe or Lord Coe.

As a middle-distance runner, he won four Olympic medals, including the 1500m gold at successive Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984. He set nine outdoor and three indoor world records in middle-distance track events which included three world records set in the space of just 41 days in 1979. He is among 24 athletes inducted as inaugural members of the ‘IAAF Hall of Fame.’

In 2007, he was elected a Vice President of the IAAF and re-elected for another four-year term in 2011. In December 2014, Coe unveiled his manifesto for the IAAF, ‘Growing Athletics in a New Age.’ He headed the successful London bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics and became Chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. In 2020, Coe was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

In 2012, Coe was appointed Pro-Chancellor and a member of the governing body of the Loughborough University. In 2012, he was also made the Chairman of the British Olympic Association. Coe was appointed a member of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Coordination Commission representing the Association of National Olympic Committees.

Birth and Education

Coe was born on September 26, 1956 at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, Hammersmith, London. His parents were Peter Coe and Tina Angela Lal. When he was less than a year, Coe family moved to Warwickshire, where he later attended Bridgetown Primary School and Hugh Clopton Secondary School in Stratford-upon-Avon. Then they moved to Sheffield where he attended Tapton Secondary Modern School, Crosspool which became a Comprehensive School while he was there and Abbeydale Grange School.

He joined athletics team Hallamshire Harriers at 12, and soon became a middle-distance specialist, having been inspired by David Jackson, a geography teacher at Tapton School who had been a cross-country runner. Coe was coached by his own father and represented Loughborough University and later Haringey when not competing for his country.

Coe studied Economics and Social History at Loughborough University and won his first major race in 1977, an 800m event at the European Indoor Championships in San Sebastián, Spain. It was at Loughborough University that he met athletics coach George Gandy who had developed “revolutionary” conditioning exercises to improve Coe’s running.

Athletics Career and Progression

In 1977, Coe came into limelight when he competed in the 800m at the European Indoor Championships in San Sebastián, front running the whole race and winning in 1:46.54, just missing the world indoor record. He ran 1500m in the Emsley Carr mile on August 29, 1977, winning in 3:57.7. He then, ran the 800m at the Coca-Cola Games at Crystal Palace in 1:44.95, claiming his first UK national record outdoors on September 9, 1977.

Coe’s 1978 season continued to show his progression in the middle distances though he raced only sparingly as he had, in early June, suffered a serious ankle injury. On August 18, 1978, he ran the 800m at the Ivo Van Damme Memorial meeting in Brussels and won in 1:44.26, creating another UK national record.

He first ran against his great rival Steve Ovett in a schools’ cross-country in 1972. In their first major encounter in 800m at Prague in the European Championships 1978, Ovett was second and Coe finished third. Coe’s father and coach Peter Coe had encouraged him to run as fast as he could from the start. The early pace was indeed exceptionally fast: Coe ran 200m in 24.3, 400m in 49.32 and 600m in 1:16.2.

A few weeks later, Coe reclaimed the UK record, setting all-comers’ mark of 1:43.97 at Crystal Palace which ranked him second in the world. On October 1, 1978, Coe displayed to the world for the first time his phenomenal natural endurance by winning the Loughrea 4 Mile Road Race in Ireland in 17:54.

Coe already held the 800 and Mile world records. Standing in his way of the triple was Filbert Bayi’s 1500m world record of 3:32.2. By August 1979, Seb Coe was an international sports superstar and millions of spectators from around the world expected a new world for 1500m from Coe.

In 1979, Coe set three world records in just 41 days. His first world record came in the 800m (1:42.33) in Oslo, Norway, then in the mile (3:48.95) and later in the 1500m (3:32.03) in Zurich, Switzerland. He became the first to hold all three records at the same time. He easily won the 800m at the European Cup in Turin and anchored the British 4x400m team.

He was voted “Athlete of the Year” by Athletics Weekly and Track and Field News and was ranked number one in the world at 800m and 1500m: no other athlete since has ranked number one at these events in the same year. In 1980, Coe broke Rick Wohlhuter’s world record for 1,000m with a time of 2:13.40 and held all four middle distance world records simultaneously, the 800m, 1000m, 1500m and the mile, for one hour until Ovett broke his mile record.

Moscow 1980 Olympic Games

Coe’s first Olympic victory in the 1500m at Moscow 1980 is hard to go past as his best race of all-time. Coe won his specialty of 1500m and secured a Silver in the 800m. The 1981 season started in February with an indoor world record of 1:46.0 over 800m at Cosford. His world record of 1:41.73 in the 800m in Florence on June 10, 1981 remained unbeaten until August 1997.

A month afterwards, he set another record with 2:12.18 for 1000m. In between these two record breaking runs, he won the Europa Cup 800m semi-final, running the last 100m in 11.3 (the fastest ever recorded in a major international race), and achieved a personal best of 3:31.95 in the 1500m.

In August he won the gold in 800m at the European Cup final. On August 19, 1981 Coe broke Steve Ovett’s Mile world record clocking 3:48.53 in Zurich. Then just a week later, on August 26, Ovett stole the record back, stopping the clock in Koblenz, lowering the record to 3:48.40. Two days later, on August 28, Coe clocked 3:47.33 in Brussels, which remained on the all-time Top 10 list until May 31, 2014.

Coe ended the season with gold in the 800m at the World Cup in Rome in September clocking 1:46.16, and remained undefeated in both the 1500m and the 800m for the entire season, as in 1979. Track & Field News and Athletics Weekly magazines voted him Athlete of the Year, an honour he had also won in 1979.

Although he had a short season in 1982 because of injuries, he still managed to rank number one in the world in the 800m and to establish a world record in 4x800m in which Coe, Peter Elliott, Garry Cook and Steve Cram clocked a new world record of 7:03.89, which lasted 24 years. Coe’s leg of 1:44.01 was the fastest of the day. He could manage only a Silver in the 800m in the European Championships 1982 in Athens.

The 1983 season began with world indoor records in the 800m in Cosford, England (1:44.91) and the 1,000m (2:18.58) in Oslo. However, he spent much of the year 1983 battling health problems and missed the inaugural IAAF World Championships.

Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games

He qualified for 800 and 1500 at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. In the 800m he took the silver, but in the 1500m he won the gold with an Olympic record of 3:32.53. His last 800m was run in 1:49.8, his last lap 53.2 and his last 100m in 12.7. He remains the only athlete to win successive Olympic 1500m titles.

Coe may have run faster countless times, but his ability to win Olympic gold whilst not being in peak physical shape, is a testament to his quality and why he is considered one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all-time. As Coe puts it: “During 1984, I had a different set of challenges because I had been ill the previous year, but by the time of the Games I was mentally much more resilient than I was in 1980”.

Coe had planned to have a somewhat quiet season in 1985, partly because of the intensity of the previous year’s efforts and recurrence of injuries which had plagued him on and off since 1980.

In 1986, Coe won the gold in 800m at the European Championships in Stuttgart, with a stunning last 200m of 24.8 and 100m in 12.4. It was his only 800m title at an international championship. He won the silver in the 1500m, and set a personal best of 3:29.77 in Rieti, Italy. For the fourth year in his career (1979, 1981, 1982 & 1986), he was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 800m and was in the top two for 1500m for the 5th time.

Whilst representing his club, he sustained an injury in 1987 and same kept him out of the track throughout the year. In 1988, he was not chosen for the British Olympic Games team. The Daily Mirror ran a campaign and even the IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, tried to have the rules changed in Coe’s favour. It was reported that India consented to include him on account of his mother’s parentage.

At 32, Coe had one final good season in 1989. He won the 1500m AAA title, was ranked British Number 1 over both 800m and 1500m, ran the second fastest 800m of the year (1:43.38) and won the silver at the World Cup in 1500m. He retired from competitive athletics in 1990, after having to bow out at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.

London 2012 Olympic Games

Coe became an ambassador for the effort when London bid to hold the 2012 Olympics. In 2004, Coe was made the Chairman. He was better suited to the diplomatic finesse needed. His presentation to the IOC on July 6, 2005 won the bid for London against tough competition from Paris and Madrid. Coe has said that London 2012 is not only about five weeks of summer sport but about encouraging more people to take up sport at all levels of competition.

Coe was instrumental in asking Queen Elizabeth II to star in ‘Happy and Glorious,’ a short film featuring James Bond which formed part of the London 2012 opening ceremony. The director of the ceremony, Danny Boyle first pitched the idea to Coe, who loved it so much that he took it to Edward Young, Deputy Private Secretary to the Queen and word soon came back to Coe that Her Majesty would love to take part.

Coe attended the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics to see how the city coped with the challenges. He noted the Games had “gradually recovered from its tumultuous start” and queried that he “never thought the British would find rivals in their preoccupation with the weather which is almost elevated to an Olympic event” as he credited VANOC for meeting unforeseen challenges such as the unseasonably warm weather of Cypress Mountain. Coe added “Rarely have I seen a host city so passionate and so ready to embrace the Games.”

Personal life

After graduation and a few months of exploits on the track in the 1980/81 seasons, Coe got a job as a Research Assistant at the Loughborough University in the department of Physical Education and Sports Science.

Coe was elected as a Member of Parliament for Falmouth and Camborne in 1992, for the Conservative Party, but lost in the 1997 general election. He returned to politics for a short time as Leader of the Opposition William Hague’s chief of staff, having accepted the offer of a Life Peerage on May 16, 2000.

Coe is a worldwide ambassador for Nike and owns a string of health clubs with a membership of over 20,000. He is a member of the East India Club, a private gentlemen’s club in St James’s Square. He has supported London athletic events like the London 10K of Nike and the British 10K charity race.

In 2012, Coe was appointed chairman of Chime Communications sports marketing subsidiary, CSM Sport and Entertainment. He is a columnist for ‘The Daily Telegraph.’ Coe was featured in an episode of the BBC TV series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Coe is a supporter of Chelsea Football Club. He is also a fan of cricket and jazz, in particular Billie Holiday and Lester Young.

Honours and Awards

In 1985, Coe was made an Honorary Doctor of Technology by his alma mater, Loughborough University. In 2009, he was awarded an honorary degree as Doctor of Science by the University of East London and an Honorary Fellow by the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 2011, he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Sunderland in 2011.

He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1982 and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1990. He was created a Life Peer as Baron Coe, of Ranmore in the County of Surrey in 2000. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 2006 for services to sport. In 2013, Coe was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

He was presented with the first Prince of Asturias Award (Sports) in 1987. After his work in delivering London 2012, Coe was presented with an Olympic Order. Coe received another lifetime achievement award at the Laureus World Sport Awards.

Coe has also received three separate awards at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony: The main individual award in 1979, a “Special Gold Award” in 2005 and the “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2012.

A building at the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton Oregon was named after Sebastian Coe in 2017. Coe is a longtime Nike athlete and the ‘Nike Sebastian Coe Building’ was designed to emphasize connectivity.

Coe was included in The Sunday Times’ “100 Makers of the 21st Century” list. In 2018, he was recognized as a Tourism Australia’s Friend of Australia, in conjunction with the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. In 2018, Coe was awarded an OLY post nominal title from World Olympians Association.

(The author is the winner of Presidential Awards for Sports and recipient of multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. He can be reached at [email protected])