Coe: The right choice

Steve Ovett (no. 279) pulls ahead of Sebastian Coe (no. 254) to win the 800m gold medal at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Coe won the 1500m race.-GETTY IMAGES Steve Ovett (no. 279) pulls ahead of Sebastian Coe (no. 254) to win the 800m gold medal at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Coe won the 1500m race.

The IAAF has got Sebastian Coe at the perfect time. For a sport which has been hit by a series of revelations and allegations, particularly large-scale systematic doping by Russian athletes and which has even taken traditional track power Kenya in its deadly grip, the middle distance legend could be a saviour of sorts, writes Stan Rayan.

He is a two-time Olympic champion, a multiple world record holder and a former Member of Parliament in Britain. The man —Sebastian Coe — also has a soft corner for India. His late mother, Tina Angela Lal, was half Indian. Her father, Sardari Lal, a Punjabi Sikh, once ran a prominent hotel in Delhi.

This connection, surely, will strike a chord with the athletics buffs in this part of the world. And, now that Coe has been elected as the President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, they would not only be looking at him to pull the sport out of the deep doping mess it appears to be in, but also give India more prominence in the world athletics map,

The IAAF has got Coe at the right time. For a sport which has been hit by a series of revelations and allegations, particularly large-scale systematic doping by Russian athletes and which has even taken traditional track power Kenya in its deadly grip, the middle distance legend could be a saviour of sorts.

Extraordinary rivalry

During his prime, Coe’s dramatic and extraordinary rivalry with his compatriot Steve Ovett in the 800m and the 1500m was one of the reasons why the sport was vibrant, why the fans filled up the stadiums which left sponsors excited too.

On the road to the 1980 Olympics, Coe broke three world records — in the 800m, the mile and the 1500m — in a space of 41 days and came to Moscow as the favourite to win the 800m, his pet event.

But there was a big shock as he lost to Ovett in the 800m, but Coe came back to jolt his big rival and grab the 1500m gold. That fierce rivalry is being made into a film with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe roped in to play Coe.

Coe had a very interesting early life. One of four children of Peter Coe, an engineer, who later became his coach, mentor and psychologist, and the actor Angela, the Coe family travelled from place to place, before settling down in Sheffield. Coe’s athletics potential came to the forefront here.

A winning combo

Peter Coe applied the principles of engineering to athletics and the cocktail worked. The sport had not seen anything like that before and soon Coe became the golden boy of British sport. He became the first athlete to defend the 1500m Olympic title, winning the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. He also finished with two 800m silver medals, at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics.

After his running days were over, Coe turned out to be successful in other fields too. He was the chairman of the London Olympics Organising Committee and organised a very successful 2012 Olympics and a little later, he was elected as the chairman of the British Olympic Association.

In between, in 1992, he became a Tory MP and in 2000 was a member of the House of Lords. He also had wide-ranging business interests and was an adviser to Nike.

This long-standing experience in marketing the sport makes him the right man to revive interest in athletics. This is one area the national federations, which voted Coe to power, beating another athletics icon — pole vault’s former world record holder Sergey Bubka — by 115 to 92 votes, would be watching with keen interest.

Increase credibility

One of the first things that Coe plans to do is to create a doping agency that is independent to the IAAF, and increase efficiency and credibility.

“There is a zero tolerance to the abuse of doping in my sport,” he said, soon after his elevation. “And I will maintain that to the very highest levels of diligence.”

He also plans to rework the world athletics calendar, bringing out a proper Diamond League series, find a way to make the stars compete against each other more frequently and to increase street meets in major cities.

A push for India

He has given a few indications that he wants to push the sport in India. This is one of the things that Anju Bobby George, one of the queens of the long jump world a few years ago, is excited about.

“India is one of the few countries that has not been hit by global recession. We should be hosting a lot of big sporting events,” says Anju, the country’s lone medallist at the World Championships with a long jump bronze medal at the 2003 Paris Worlds.

“Look at China, it hosted the Asian Championships a couple of months ago and is now holding the World Championships in Beijing. Only if people watch international sport will interest in the sport grow. We can host major sporting events, but money should be utilised properly, a sporting event should not be followed by a major scandal.”

Bring back rivalries

People love great rivalries and Coe should try his best to ensure that.

“If you look at the World Championships, the highlight is the 100m race between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin,” says Anju. “People like to watch such races. Years ago, athletics had more of them, but now there are lone stars, like Bolt. The glamour of athletes like Yelena Isinbayeva (pole vault) is also missing.”

Heavy expectations

Coe is also the right man to tackle doping, feels Anju, a long jump gold medallist in the 2005 IAAF World Athletics Finals, also a first for the country.

“We have a lot of expectations because as an athlete Sebastian Coe (who had been an IAAF vice president from 2007) knows well about the internal dynamics, what’s happening inside the IAAF and what’s happening outside athletics,” she says. “So, I feel he is the best person to deal with these things.”

Athletics sure has a lot to look forward to.