DOHA, Qatar, Sep 25 – IAAF President Sebastian Coe never enjoyed losing but it is arguable the day he lost his seat in 1997 as a lawmaker changed the course of his life and ultimately led to Britain hosting the biggest global sporting gala with aplomb.
The two-time Olympic 1500 metres champion and freshly re-elected head of the International Association of Athletics Federations, who turns 63 next Sunday, never really got the chance to prove himself at Westminster in just one five-year term as a Conservative MP.
However, like he showed on the track when he was beaten he may have sulked briefly but he used it as a launching pad to rebound.
Eight years on from standing on a stage experiencing defeat in his seat in southwest England he stood on another in Singapore after masterminding London’s stunning upset win over Paris in the race to host the 2012 Olympics.
Hugh Robertson, who as Sports Minister worked closely with Coe on the final two years of preparing and staging the Games, says the former athlete is a formidable operator.
“Sports’ gain has been politics’ loss,” Robertson told AFP.
“I think he is one of the most impressive people that I know. There are very few people who have won an Olympic gold medal, chaired the organising committee for a hugely successful summer Olympic Games and run a major international sports federation.
“He is a natural leader, a polished communicator and an excellent judge of people which allows him to assemble and retain great teams.”
However, there have been bumps in the road.
Despite taking a stronger line than other sporting institutions in punishing Russia over the doping scandal — it has been suspended from track and field since November 2015 — Coe was accused of misleading British lawmakers.
This followed an unusually flustered performance in front of a parliamentary committee in 2015 in which he claimed not to have known about Russian doping nor an alleged IAAF cover-up under his predecessor Lamine Diack until a German TV documentary revealed it in December 2014.
A subsequent witness, former British athlete Dave Bedford, testified he had sent Coe emails about a particular case involving extortion of money from a doped Russian athlete, Liliya Shobukhova, four months prior to the documentary.
The IAAF Ethics board cleared Coe of the charge of misleading parliament but the committee did not alter their findings.
“It stretches credibility to believe that he (Coe) was not aware, at least in general terms, of the main allegations that the (IAAF) ethics commission had been asked to investigate,” read the committee’s report.
– Father was driving force –
The damning indictment runs contrary to the man Robertson worked with on such a close basis.
“He is very cool under pressure and has a great moral compass,” said Robertson.
If there is one thing, though, that is consistent about the jazz-loving Coe, it is a habit of taking a knock and bouncing straight back up — something that dates back to his glory years on the track.
The twice-married father of four enjoyed a fabulous rivalry with Steve Ovett, who beat him in the 800m Olympic final in 1980 in Moscow.
That event was meant to be Coe’s strongest — he was the world record holder — with the 1500m Ovett’s.
“One of the nationals ran a photograph of me training the following day with the headline ‘Coe’s Trail of Shame,’” he told talkSPORT radio last year.
He considered it the worst 800m run of his life and his disappointment was clear on the podium where some felt he disrespected Ovett.
“If Mother Teresa had been on the rostrum with me I’d have behaved the same,” he told The Times in 2000.
“It was about disappointment with myself.”
A few days later he created very different headlines as he took gold in the 1500 metres, denying Ovett the double.
His success on the track and his strength of character can be put down to his late father and coach Peter, who never spared his son regardless of the conditions.
“Once in a storm of swirling snow and hail, when I had 14 miles on the road to do, he said (from his car), ‘I don’t know what you’ve got out there, but I’ve got Wagner in here’,” he told The Times in 2000.
“I told him it was pretty Wagnerian where I was, too.”