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UK Athletics

Sebastian Coe

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Sebastian Coe
Born: 1956
Birthplace: Chiswick, London

Club: Hallamshire H, Haringey
Coached by: Peter Coe


Completing The Cycle

On July 6, 2005, the word ‘London’ have never sounded greater than when they left the lips of Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee, and resounded across the world as the name of the venue which will stage the Olympic Games in 2012


There was little doubt in every quarter that had Lord Sebastian Coe not been at the helm of the project as the bid chairman, then the Games would not be heading to England.


He had turned the bid into a spectacular and successful mission. Yet, if the facts are examined deeply, all Coe really did was what he knew: he ensured that he gave it his all and that at the end of the day no-one could say ‘should have done’ better.

Winning the Olympics for London was secured in a smart suit and an impressive tie, but the guts and the desire were the same as when he wore singlet and shorts.


Lord Sebastian Coe is arguably the greatest runner to compete in the red, white and blue, because, like in 2012, he knew what he wanted - and he would not beaten. A success in retirement, Coe, is Britain’s most prolific world record setter, with nine outdoors and three indoors, the complete middle-distance runner after gracing the tracks of the world during an era which will never be repeated in the history of the sport. 


From Dismal Days

In 1976, at the Olympics in Montreal, British athletics suffered its worst ever Games when Brendan Foster’s bronze was the team’s only medal, which makes the events of the next eight years all the more remarkable.

Fast-forward to the next Olympics in Moscow, and it would be fair to say that the country came to a standstill for the men’s 800m and 1500m, to gasp and rejoice at the duels of Coe against his great rival Steve Ovett.


Coe was brought up in Sheffield, running for Hallamshire Harriers AC who he joined at 12, and he was inspired by his father Peter as his coach.


He would set him targets even when he was 13 and Coe showed great signs of promise as a youngster. He was Yorkshire Colts cross country champion when he was 14, and at 16, he won the English Schools Intermediate 3000m title.

One race that never stood out at the time was the English Schools Cross Country Championships of 1972 when Coe, then 15, finished 10th and a 16-year-old Ovett was second. Who could have predicted what destiny had in store for them?

Coe slowly and impressively progressed through the ranks, and after finishing third in the European Junior 1500m in 1975, his first major title arrived in fabulous fashion when he won the 800m at the European Indoor Championships in San Sebastian in 1:46.54. It began...a career which would carry him through to the greatest of all triumphs and literally make a difference to people’s lives. Then as an athlete; now as the man who has brought the Olympics to Britain for the first time since 1948.


The following year came the European Championships in Prague and an extraordinary finale to the 800m, which saw Coe and Ovett, who then won the 1500m, meeting for the first time since that schools race six years earlier.


It was set to be a duel between just the two great rivals because that summer, Coe had set the national 800m record with 1:44.95.


He dominated a great race but he ran out of steam, Ovett took over with 100m to go before, from nowhere, East German Olaf Beyer came through to beat them both and win in 1:43.84.

Ovett was second place in 1:44.09, which remained his personal best time, while Coe took bronze in 1;44.76.


At the finish, Ovett bent down to talk to Coe and the instant reaction from the watching media was that the pair had had a disagreement. As Coe revealed, it was not that at all.

He said: “I was virtually on all fours desperately trying to get some oxygen into my lungs, when Steve came over, put his hand on my shoulder and said something. The media thought we were having a row, but what Steve actually said was, 'Who the **** was that'?"


Coe was always portrayed by the press as the ‘good guy’ with Ovett the ‘bad guy’ based on his decision not to run in the European Cup in 1975 and his unwillingness to give interviews.

Coe was the first of the pair to break a world record when he ran 1:42.40 in the 800m in Oslo on July 5, 1979 and from then, his exploits, followed by that of Ovett, would thrill sports fans like never before. 


On The Road To Moscow

Twelve days after his 800m world record, Coe was back at the same venue and this time he broke the Mile world record by running 3:48.95, improving his personal best by a remarkable 8.72 secs before in the 1500m, he ran a world record 3:32.03 at Zürich before losing that record to Ovett the following year prior to the Olympics. But at the end of 1979, Coe’s exploits saw him named the BC’s Sports Personality Of The Year


It was all building towards the Moscow Olympics.

Up first was the 800m final, Coe’s event, the distance where had excelled and where he was favourite to beat Ovett.

It did not work out that way as Coe ran a bad race tactically, and could not make up enough ground after a great deal of bumping.


Ovett had taken command and he won in 1:45.40 from Coe in 1:45.85 with Nikolay Kirov, of the Soviet Union, third in 1:45.94. A despondent Coe left the track wondering how he would be able to return at the end of the week for the 1500m, Ovett’s 'baby'.


He had encouraging words throughout, including from team manager Mary Peters, among others, who had won Pentathlon gold eight years earlier at the Olympic Games in Munich.

Coe controlled his mind and with one of the performances of his career, he strode down the home straight to win the 1500m in 3:38.40 with Ovett third in 3:38.99, and inbetween, Jurgen Straub, of East Germany, in 3:38.80.


It was amazing. Coe and Ovett both won the gold medal the other was expected to triumph in, but it just raised their profile to an even greater level and the summer which followed would be even more dramatic.


Coe, who had set the 100m world record in 1980, lowered the 800m time to 1:41.73 in Florence in 1981 on June 10 before on July 11, he took his 1000m mark to 2:12.18 from 2:13.40.

Then came the start of the most unreal nine days in the history of middle-distance running; perhaps even athletics itself.

On August 19, in Zurich, Coe broke the Mile world record with 3:48.53 in Zurich, his third world record of the summer, before in Koblenz, on August 26, Ovett took it with 3:48.40 only for Coe to regain it again two days later with 3:47.33 in Brussels.

How big was the news? It came on a Friday night and the following morning, Britain’s biggest selling daily newspaper, The Sun, had the story on the front page, the back page and on two more pages inside. And that was the first day of the football season! 


Retaining Olympic Gold

In the build up to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, Coe had been recovering from serious illness the year before.

He finished second in the 800m final at the Games, before with a wonderful run, he retained his 1500m crown in 3:32.53, followed by Steve Cram, who had become part of this brilliant British triumvirate having won the world 1500m title the previous year in Helsinki, with Spain’s José Manuel Abascal third in 3:34.30.


Ovett had dropped out on the final lap suffering with the chest infection which had troubled him throughout the Olympics.

Two years later, in a marvellous European Championships in Stuttgart, Coe won the 800m, his only gold at the distance, in a British cleansweep. He triumphed in 1:44.50 from Tom McKean, second in 1:44.61, with Cram third in 1:44.88.

It was a glory which gave Coe so much pleasure because the 800m was arguably his best distance.


Controversially, he was omitted from the 1988 Olympic team for Seoul after failing in the trials through illness, and though he was second to Somalia’ Abdi Bili in the 1500m at the 1989 World Cup in Barcelona, his career ended with a disappointing sixth place in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.

Incredibly, his best times at 800m (1:41.73) and 1000m (2:12.18) in 1981 were not beaten until 1997 and 1999 respectively.


Coe was unbeaten in a 1500m or Mile final from September 14, 1976, to June 24, 1983, but after retirement, his future had an Olympic finale which even he could not have imagined.

An economics graduate of Loughborough University, Coe served as vice-chairman of the Sports Council, he was awarded the MBE in 1982 and the OBE in 1990.


In 1992 he was elected as Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne, but he lost his seat in the General Election of 1997. He was private secretary to William Hague, the leader of the Conservative Party in opposition between 1997 and 2001, and in 2000, he was one of 33 new Peers appointed to the reconstructed House of Lords, taking the title of Lord Coe of Ranmore.


In 1990 he married Nicola McIrvine, who earlier that year had ridden Middle Road to win the Badminton three-day event, but they separated in 2002.


He was President of the AAA between 2000 and 2004 and when London 2012 came calling, the challenge brought out the best in him again. The result was much the same: glorious, wonderful victory.


It was a success which saw him awarded the KBE in the 2006 New Year Honour’s and as chairman of the organising Committee, his mind is focussed on even further Olympic glory. It was a role which could have been made for Sebastian Coe.


International Championships

1975: 3rd 1500m European Juniors

1977: 1st 800m European Indoor, 4th 800m European Cup

1978: 3rd 800m Europeans

1979: 1st 800m European Cup

1980: 2nd 800m, 1st 1500m Olympics

1981: 1st 800m European Cup, 1st 800m World Cup

1982: 2nd 800m Europeans

1984: 2nd 800m, 1st 1500m Olympics

1986: dns 800m Commonwealth Games, 1st 800m, 2nd 1500m Europeans

1989: 2nd 1500m World Cup

1990: 6th 800m Commonwealth Games


UK Internationals: 20 (1977-89)


National Championships

Won UK 800m 1978, AAA 800m 1981, 1500m 1989; Junior 1500m 1975.


Personal bests:

400m 46.87 (1979), 600m 1:16.2 (1978), 800m 1:41.73 (1981), 1000m 2:12.18 (1981), 1500m 3:29.77 (1986), 1M 3:47.33 (1981), 2000m 4:58.84 (1982), 5000m 14:06.2 (1980), Marathon 2:56:20 (1991).


Indoors: 800m 1:44.91 (1983), 1000m 2:18.58 (1983), 1500m 3:42.60 (1983), 3000m 7:54.32 (1986)


World Records: 800m (2), 1000m (2), 1500m (1), 1M (3), 4x800mR (1) 1979-82. : 800m (2), 1000m (2), 1500m (1), 1M (3), 4x800mR (1) 1979-82.


World Indoor Bests: 800m: 1:46.0 ’81, 1:44.91 ’83; 1000m: 2:18.58 ’83. : 800m: 1:46.0 ’81, 1:44.91 ’83; 1000m: 2:18.58 ’83.


UK records: 800m (5), 1000m (2), 1500m (2), 1M (3) 1977-81.

: 800m (5), 1000m (2), 1500m (2), 1M (3) 1977-81.