Sebastian Coe, Lord Coe, or to avid athletics fans, we know him as the the president of the IAAF – The International Association of Athletics Federations – the beating heart in the body of athletics.
Despite being the ‘head’ of the IAAF, the Chairman of the British Olympic Association and a former Member of Parliament, Sebastian Coe was a phenomenal athlete, who inspired generations to come by obliterating World Records left, right and center, and claiming four Olympic Medals in the process. Coe was also involved in one of the most profound rivalries in athletics, many a time going head-to-head against his fellow countryman Steve Ovett.
Coe first caught the eye of the public in 1977, where he was selected to represent Great Britain at the European Indoor Championships over the 800m distance. With him being a somewhat unknown entity in the world of athletics, Coe surprised the world and demonstrated his true talent by front-running the race and winning in 1:44.54 – narrowly missing the World Indoor Record.
Later that year, in August, Coe competed in the Emsley Carr Mile (a historic race in athletics), winning in a time of 3:57.7, nine days prior to claiming his first record: the British 800m Record in a time of 1:44.95. Coe went on to have several major performances during that season, always demonstrating his blistering raw speed at the end of a race by out-kicking his opponents in the home straight. Interesting to many people – Sebastian was coached by his own father, Peter Coe, who before his son had no previous experience in athletics coaching, or any coaching in fact. The story behind Peter Coe, and his sheer intelligence is almost as impressive as his sons.
In August 1978, Coe matched up against his soon-to-be rival, Steve Ovett, for the first time in the final of the 800m at the European Outdoor Championships. In this case, Ovett finished second in the race, breaking Coe’s British Record in the process after Coe tied up tremendously in the final 150m after his very optimistic opening 400m of 49.32. This is the race that started a rivalry of the ages; with both athletes being from the same country, they came face to face rather regularly, and it was never clear to see who would come out on top. As if out of spite, Coe lined up to race the 800m distance a few weeks after the European Championships and re-claimed his British Record in a time of 1:43.97, which definitely made a lot of international athletes fear his talent.
1979, however, was the biggest year that possibly any athlete has ever and will ever experienced. Not only was he the first athlete to become sponsored by an athletics brand, and become the first real ‘professional’ athlete, he managed to set three World Records in only 41 days. These World Records consisted of an 800m time of 1:42.33, a 1500m time of 3:32.03 and a Mile time of 3:48.95 – an unbelievable feat of athleticism. That year Coe remained undefeated over all disciplines that year, which has not been repeated since.
The next big story in the life of Coe came at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where he got selected to represent Great Britain at both the 800m and the 1500m. Before this event, his rival Steve Ovett had been getting very close to his 1500m World Record, so out of the two Coe was considered the 800m athlete and Ovett was considered the 1500m athlete. With both athletes advancing to the final in both disciplines, they ironically won each others respective event, with Coe claiming the Gold in the 1500m and Silver in the 800m, while Ovett snagged the Gold from Coe’s fingertips in the 800m. Another feat that was repeated four years later at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles – making Sebastian Coe the only athlete to claim the 1500m title at successive Olympic Games.
In 1980, Coe also broke the 1000m World Record – a unique event that was not heavily contested – leaving him the World Record holder in the 800m, 1000m, 1500m and the Mile… For exactly one hour, until Steve Ovett competed the same evening in the Mile and breaking Coe’s World Record. Yet another extraordinary tale in a sea of remarkable feats.
In 1981, Coe went on to re-claim the Mile World record, clocking a time of 3:47.33, and he even lowered his own 800m World Record with a 1:41.73 performance. After this season, Coe was still a threat over the Middle Distances, and continued to perform on a Global stage, but no more World Records were broken.
Truth be told, when talking about Lord Sebastian Coe, it is always going to be difficult to make it brief, as he was an athlete of raw ability and we cannot help but marvel over him. He had a ‘once in a blue moon’ career that we are most likely not going to see a repeat of for many years to come, yet we can trust the IAAF with it in his hands as a man who loves and respects the sport we all admire. To this day, he is constantly making changes, trying to make the sport cleaner and fairer, and will always be a significant role model and admiration of rising athletes.