Seb Coe on an Olympic quest in Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 14:11 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:43 28 February 2013

Coe with young taekwondo enthusiasts in Sheffield

Coe with young taekwondo enthusiasts in Sheffield

Sebastian Coe returns to Yorkshire in search of new Olympians. <br/><br/>Jo Haywood catches up with him

The 1968 Mexico Olympics had a profound effect on 12-year-old Seb Coe. Sitting cross-legged in front of a television at his Sheffield secondary school he watched Dick Fosbury use his new flop to take high jump gold; Jim Hines become the first sprinter to officially break the 10-second barrier in the 100m and Australian Ralph Doubell create a new world record in the 800m final.

Like many British youngsters, he was fired up by the Olympic flame and joined his local athletics team, Hallamshire Harriers. Unlike many British youngsters, however, he kept that flame burning bright, taking gold in 1980 and 1984 and carving out a name for himself among the greatest middle distance runners of all time.

I was right here when I first became aware of how important the Olympics are, he said, sitting in the headmasters office of his old school, Tapton, just outside the traffic-packed hub of Sheffield city centre. The headmaster let us watch it on television and it was absolutely awe-inspiring.

I want children to feel that way again in 2012. I want schools to show the Games on big screens and give their pupils some new heroes.

For those of you who eschew television, dont read newspapers and have been living in a crater on the moon for the past few years, Seb Coe or Lord Coe of Ranmore to give him his Sunday name is chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, charged with making 2012 a year to remember for all the right reasons.

He visited Sheffield to unveil the new Hall of Champions at the prestigious English Institute of Sport, ably assisted by the citys World Champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis, and took time out to meet young athletes taking part in a range of Olympic disciplines, including athletics, basketball, taekwondo, boxing and table tennis.

Ive been here many times before, he said in between waving an over-sized Union Jack to start a 200m sprint and clapping youngsters hurling themselves into the long jump pit. Places like this change perceptions. Seeing the British boxing squad training here today and knowing that this place is an integral part of Jesss success are a mark of its quality.

There are some serious role models here, and the level of coaching is astounding. It ticks all the boxes as a centre of excellence in terms of the quality of the venue and its infrastructure, the quality of the coaching and the quality of the people using the facilities.

'Having being brought up here in South Yorkshire, I know that sport is just something that you do in Sheffield. People understand what sport is all about.'

'Thats the vital fourth ingredient.

Coe has natural charisma. He was, after all, the man who persuaded the erstwhile granite-faced International Olympic Committee that London was the right choice for 2012 and not Paris, the hot favourite. He uses his charm well on a one-to-one level too, putting all the young athletes he met in Sheffield completely at ease and answering questions, some of which he must have heard dozens of times, with interest and focus.

He looks younger than his 53 years, maintaining his wiry athletes physique with regular runs, and has that enviable quality of seeming completely comfortable with himself. Others might have felt and looked foolish knocking a ping-pong ball over a net or trying to dunk a few hoops, but he approached each potential pratfall with confidence and good humour.

See, Im a natural, he said after scoring with his first throw of a basketball. The crowd of cheering youngsters around him were not even twinkles when he was at the top of his game two decades ago and some, I suspect, didnt really know who he was, but they liked him all the same.

Later, at his old school, he talked about how a childhood enthusiasm for sport helped make him the confident, seemingly fearless man he is today.
This school has always been strong on sports, which obviously suited me, he explained. We always had great PE teachers. But it was more than that. Great teams and great sport are about more than great PE departments. Its got to be a whole-school ethos. In my case, it was actually my geography teacher, Dave Jackson, who first pushed me along.

Coe was actually born in Fulham, West London, but spent his childhood and teenage years in Sheffield, where his father and coach Peter drove his naturally talented son to run mile after mile along the streets south of the city while his mum, Angela, maintained a warm family home for her husband, two daughters and two sons.

The Olympic champion maintains close links with the city today, regularly visiting Tapton and the English Institute of Sport. Ive always had a very strong connection with Yorkshire, he said. It will always be my county. I love the landscape and the cities, and I support the cricket team.

But not one of our football teams? Well, he said, not batting an eyelid at the slightly cheeky question. I was born in London and my parents were from London, so I think its forgivable for me to support Chelsea. If its any consolation, after Ive checked the Chelsea score, the second result I look up is always Sheffield Wednesday.

With the Games now less than 1,000 days away, the word legacy keeps cropping up in editorials, debates and discussions with alarming regularity. Will the London Games mark a turning point in the health of the nation, leading more of us to reach for our running shoes rather than the TV remote control? Will the name Seb Coe once again be synonymous with success at the Olympics?

Only time will tell. All the man in charge can say with absolute certainty at the moment is that whatever happens, his home county will have done its bit. One of the strongest legacies is already being developed right here in Yorkshire, he said.

People from Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and across the county are coming together. Sport is bringing Yorkshire together which, as someone who spent his childhood here and understands the countys rivalries, is a major achievement.

Hall of Champions

Sheffields new Hall of Champions, unveiled by Lord Coe during his visit, features sporting greats who have trained in the city on their way to World or Olympic success.

Images of double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes, James Degale and Paul Goodison, who both won gold in Beijing, Winter Olympics gold medallist Nicola Minichiello and World heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis now have pride of place in the gallery.

Steve Brailey, chief executive of Sheffield International Venues, which operates 14 facilities including the English Institute of Sport and Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, said: Lord Coe is one of Sheffields greatest ever Olympians, so its fitting that he has opened our Hall of Champions.

A total of 19 competitors represented our venues in Beijing 2008, each one acting as an ambassador for the city.

As we edge closer to 2012, Sheffields reputation for being home to the best elite competitors continues to grow. Our venues are now home to scores of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, many of whom will adorn the walls of our Hall of Champions in years to come.

Coe on the go
Seb Coe is a double Olympic champion, taking gold in the 1,500m and silver in the 800m at both the Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 Games. He is also a 12-time world record holder.

He retired from competitive athletics in 1990 and became a Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne. He lost his seat in 1997 and went on to become William Hagues chief of staff.

He married former Badminton three-day event champion Nicky McIrvine in 1990, but the marriage ended 12 years later. They have four children: Madeline, Harry, Peter and Alice.

He was made a peer in 2002 and received a knighthood in the 2006 New Years Honours List.

As well as leading the Olympics organising committee for 2012, he is also vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, a controlling shareholder in The Complete Leisure Group and a non-executive member of the England 2018 World Cup bid committee. He has taken a leave of absence from his duties as chairman of the FIFA Ethics Committee until after the Games.

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