Sebastian Coe talks to Jason Henderson about his new autobiography and life after 2012
Sebastian Coe has come a long way since those mildly mischievous childhood days that saw him pinch apples from a market stall, skip RE lessons in order to go running and endure several lashes of the cane for general naughtiness at school in Sheffield.
Those are just some of the revelations in his new autobiography Running My Life and when I bring it up, he says: “All kids do that kind of thing at some stage, don’t they?”
They certainly do. Yet not many go on to not only star in an Olympics – as Coe did in 1980 and 1984 – but also later stage the greatest show on earth, as he did so magnificently in London last year.
Athletics Weekly caught up with him at the IAAF Gala in Barcelona in late November to chat everything from his autobiography to life after 2012.
“There are two things most gratifying to me,” Coe says as he reflects on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. “Firstly when someone comes up and says their child has just joined an archery or gymnastics or athletics club because of what they watched on television or in a stadium. And secondly when they say what a lovely summer they had.
“And they were in essence the two objectives. What did we set out to do? To get more kids playing sport and to make the nation proud.”
And make the nation proud he certainly did. The Games are, of course, featured heavily in Coe’s new autobiography, but so to is his childhood, athletics career and political spell.
“I didn’t just want to write a book about the Olympics,” Coe explains. “Many years ago my dad had been pressing me to write it down and remember it and I sort of started it but it was in fits and starts and then I thought ‘I’m 56 and my athletics career is 20 something years behind me and my political front line is behind me and I’m not returning to that and I’ve just had the most extraordinary journey’.
“So really the book was in essence written by the time we got to the Games but I obviously wanted to leave some space for my own observations going through the extraordinary journey.”
As well as giving him the chance to reflect on said journey, Coe admits that a big part of the enjoyment of putting his autobiography together was the opportunity it gave him to further investigate his roots.
“When writing about my family background I found it really interesting talking to relatives who gave me a bit more of an understanding about where I came from.
“For example lots of interesting stuff came out about my grandmother, with her sailing off to New York as part of an Indian dance group. It was quite unusual in the 1920s for an English woman to marry an Indian man and then bring up my mother ‘til she was about 10-11 in India. What came out was the powerful nature of women in my family.”
Coe’s father comes across as a huge personality in the book, and despite all of Coe’s achievements, he admits his father held on to one disappointment.
“Track and field was what he did, but his main passion was cycling,” remembers Coe. “Toward the end of my athletics career a journalist asked him if he had any regrets and without even flinching he said he was disappointed his son never won the Tour de France!
“In fact, the only sporting event he would plan his whole year around was the Tour de France. And if it was on and he couldn’t watch it, he would not come to the track with me.”
From his father’s regrets, to his own – if Coe were able to go back in time, would he make any changes to his training or preparation for races?
“No, I don’t think so. I suffered injuries like everyone else but they were never chronic or career-threatening.
“I had great people around me like my father, David Martin and George Gandy. People used to be surprised when I told them that two or three nights per week we weren’t pounding the pavements or burning Tartan but we were lifting weights or doing plyometrics in the gym. I was very lucky in that I always worked with people who were never afraid to challenge the orthodox and always wanted to look around the corner.”
So how about life after 2012? How optimistic is Coe when it comes to Britain winning athletics medals in the next few years?
“I’m optimistic because I don’t need to talk about Mo, Jess, Greg and Christine. I’m optimistic because I see what’s going on at European and world youth and junior events,” he explains. “I’ve been to the last few European youth and world youth and junior championships and we have a really good team coming.
“I always said to Charles (van Commenee) the team would perform well in London but that it would probably be marginally undercooked and that there are some really exciting years ahead – men and women and events in which we have not historically performed well in, such as the hammer with Sophie Hitchon.
“We have a much broader base than we have ever had before.”
» This is an extract from an exclusive six-page interview with Seb Coe from the January 3 issue of Athletics Weekly, which is available here