Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview with Olympics Chief Sebastian Coe

By Emdad Rahman
Lord Sebastian Coe may have smashed twelve world records and collected two Olympic gold medals, but he won his greatest ever race when he bought the Olympics to the City of London.

When the five candidate cities were announced, London was off the running pace, trailing Paris and Madrid whilst lumbering along clumsily.

But with the timing and turn of pace that he produced many times during a distinguished running career, Coe led London to a late charge that saw them pip their Parisian rivals at the finish line.

He’s my favourite ever Olympian and here, Coe talks about the Olympics, what it means to London and it’s legacy.

What drives you on every day?
We went to Singapore just over six years ago now and put forward a vision on behalf of London and the UK to use the power of the Games to inspire change.  I am driven to make that come true.  That means getting preparations right for athletes to perform to their very best.  It also means improvements in east London through the creation of Olympic Park, sports facilities, transport and housing infrastructure.  The Games are inspiring great legacy benefits for local people and I think the work will be seen to be well worth it.

Are you and Sergei Bubka running for the IAAF top job?
I have been involved with track and field since the 1970s, and in August at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, I will be seeking re-election as Vice President of the IAAF.  However, I will retain my focus on staging the London 2012 Games so that is unaffected.

Can you explain the presence of synchronised swimming in the Olympics along with the absence of rugby, cricket and tug of war?
The International Olympic Committee makes the decision on which sports are included in the Olympic Games and the International Paralympic Committee decides which sports are included in the Paralympic Games. Rugby Sevens has been selected as a new Olympic sport and will be part of the sports programme at the Rio 2016 Games, as well as golf. I don’t know of any plans to reintroduce tug of war which is a shame because Great Britain won gold, silver and bronze medals in the sport when it was contested at London’s first Games in 1908!

You’ve been involved with London 2012 for ten years now. Can you summarise the decade in a few short sentences?
It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was born in London so to get the opportunity to host an Olympic and Paralympic Games in my own backyard is incredible. It’s been a real honour to initially be part of the bid team and to now be delivering that vision which we’ve working on for so many years.

Do you ever wake up and feel “gosh I need to get away from the madness”?
Never. I have one of the best jobs in the world and I really appreciate the once in a lifetime opportunity to be in this position. However, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the fantastic work, dedication and commitment of all our staff and volunteers working at London 2012, and at Games-time the whole city will be part of a ‘team effort’ welcoming the world!

On a personal level what are you planning for the future after the Olympics are over?
At the moment, I am fully focused on delivering a fantastic Olympic and Paralympic Games next summer and making sure that athletes, spectators and visitors have a great time here in London and the rest of the UK. Perhaps I will take a holiday to start off with after the Games!

You’re an Olympian – Will the Olympics be a life changing event?
The Olympic Games have been an incredibly important part of my life for decades.  I have taken part as an athlete at the Moscow and Los Angeles Games, as a broadcaster and journalist, as part of a bid team and now as Chair of an Organising Committee.  Of course as an athlete, it’s the pinnacle of your sporting career, but throughout this period I have seen how the Games can be a real force for good by inspiring and uniting people.

Tell us about the Olympic legacy for London and the legacy of the London Olympics to the rest of the world?
I can already see the Games leaving sporting, social and economic legacies, and young people from London are playing a full part in this.  I see it at schools like Marion Richardson Primary in Stepney which have been inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  I see it at training venues in east London, and through aspiring young athletes training daily to improve their personal best for a chance to compete and follow local role models like Philips Idowu and Christine Ohuruogu.

We can all see it close at hand as the east London skyline changes daily thanks to the construction of venues on the Olympic Park.  And the legacy goes even further, with 12 million young people in developing countries like Bangladesh or Nigeria benefiting from our International Inspiration programme.

Why the plan for the lack of interest in the football tickets?
I would not agree there is a lack of interest.  We have seen strong sales, with both men and women’s games selling out.  However, because there are a lot of matches at big venues this sport has most tickets to sell so there are still opportunities remaining to buy more.

We do not yet know all the teams competing next summer and no draw has been made. Once we know who is playing and where, we are confident that the whole of the UK will embrace the first major global football tournament in the UK in nearly 50 years.

Daley Thompson or Steve Redgrave to light the Olympic torch? Why?
Both Daley and Steve are great Olympians, but luckily I’m not charged with deciding which person will receive this honour!

Can you name all of the Olympics host boroughs? And have you visited all of them yet?
One of the great things about my job is seeing local benefits almost each and every month.  This year I have already visited Tower Hamlets’ Curry Capital around Brick Lane, a young people’s hockey project in Hackney, a community garden in Waltham Forest, a school in Newham, the equestrian sports event in Greenwich Park and my next stop is Barking and Dagenham!  Beyond the host boroughs I have been North to Brent and South West to Kingston and Richmond amongst others, not to mention the nations and regions of the UK.

Getting out of the office is something I take very seriously, and we are committed to working with the Host Boroughs to ensure that local people benefit from staging the greatest show on earth on their doorstep. These visits were all examples of how we are working alongside councillors, residents and businesses to maximise the benefits from commercial, employment, educational and cultural opportunities. London is a unique, creative and dynamic city and there are some hidden gems in East London which deserve to be discovered and revealed.

What do you say to people who say that there will massive intrusions in their life all for a fortnight of sports?
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are the world’s biggest sporting events.  Putting on the Olympic Games is equivalent to staging 26 world championships, before taking a short break then doing it all over again with 20 Paralympics sporting championships.  It is a huge undertaking with nearly 15,000 athletes, over 20,000 accredited media and millions of ticket holders.  So yes, life will be slightly different for Londoners next summer!

However, it’s more than just a ‘fortnight of sport’.  The Olympic and Paralympic Games have brought a generation’s worth of investment and regeneration in just a few years.  World class sporting facilities, new housing, a new urban park, the new Westfield development and improved transport links have combined to create almost a brand new community in the area.  I’m proud that the Games have been the catalyst for this and on top of it all, there will be an extraordinary atmosphere – a real ‘I was there’ type summer. 

What are your thoughts on a London bid for the 2017 World Athletics Championships?
A successful bid will be our opportunity to say thank you for that constant support by delivering a fantastic IAAF World Championships in London that will help drive more young people in to the sport. The 2017 World Athletics Championships would be an extraordinary legacy for the Stadium and for London.

What do you truly think of synchronised swimming?
We had a synchronised swimming display at our One Year to Go celebrations in the Aquatics Centre – it was a fantastic display.  Synchronised swimmers are incredible athletes and their sport requires a lot of skill. I think a lot of people will really enjoy watching synchronised swimming during the Games and it’s another good example of the Games letting young and old experience a new sport.

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