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Lord Coe interview

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Lord Coe interview
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Leading London’s Olympic bid and seeing the city transform itself for the biggest sporting event in its history has changed Seb Coe’s world view for the better. And, he tells Sport, there’s no going back

Today is a massive moment for me personally
”Being given the opportunity to work alongside a team landing an Olympics in the city you were born in is, I accept, given to few people – and I feel very privileged to be doing it.”

It’s been a long journey
”When I started working on the bid, one of my daughters was three years old. She’s now 13. My eldest daughter was still at primary school, and she’s now in her second year at university. But you could say my journey actually started when I joined my first athletics club as a child and worked my way towards two Olympic Games. I’ve been involved with the Olympic movement for 33 years now.”

I didn’t come into this blindly
”I came in with expectations. I don’t think you can have been involved as a competitor at an Olympics or been involved, as I was, with politics without gaining some insight into the vagaries of public opinion and the need to communicate clearly all the time what you’re doing. I knew instinctively where the pressure points would come.”

I owe everything to sport
”It’s what has defined me and large parts of my life. I’m sitting here today not because I’m a sport administrator, but because I entered sport as a competitor. That means I will always see this event through the optics of a competitor. Sport is what I’m delivering – I’ve never lost sight of the fact that this is a sporting event.”

You should always listen to those close to you
”I have a very, very close circle of friends whose judgement I value – and one person particularly, who I had supper with the night I was offered the responsibility. He was an east Londoner – sadly no longer with us – and my closest friend. He said: ’Look, of course you have to do it. Because you understand, because I’ve shown you, what sport means in east London.’ But he did offer the view that I would either be carrying the torch or the can, and he was probably right about that.”

The weight of the nation is on my shoulders
“I think we’ve all recognised, from whatever the part of the project we’ve come from, that there’s a massive responsibility to get this right. This is the biggest project most of the nation will have witnessed in living memory, and we feel a big responsibility to deliver it and make people feel proud.”

The world will keep on surprising you
“Whether this journey has changed me or not is the sort of question you’re best to ask my family. But I wouldn’t let them answer you. > All I can say is that there’s never a day that goes by without you learning something about the project or a little bit more about human nature. Anyone who’s been involved with this will tell you that there are things you have witnessed, things you’ve seen, that will change your view about the world. And that view is far and away a very positive one.“

I’ll always remember my Sheffield bus ride
“I was sitting on it on the Torch Relay route, listening to 20 people talking about why they’d been nominated to carry the torch. That was probably the moment so far that I’ll remember the longest. There was a man who had sat talking somebody out of a suicide attempt for four hours on a bridge, and others who’d suffered real health issues yet still picked themselves up and tried to help others in that same situation. It was a great moment for me to listen to all those personal stories.“

There’s no going back
“There hasn’t been a single time when we’ve felt beaten or defeated during this project. As with all jobs, some days are better than others. But, overwhelmingly, I think this has been a project that everybody has just felt a great privilege to be involved with. Life may never be the same for any of us again.“

This job has no off button
“In the past 24 hours, I’ve taken the Chief of the Defence Staff around the Olympic Park with all his generals, and been to Newham to thank all the people working at the local council for their initiatives to get more young people involved in sport. Then I had a whole batch of interviews before speaking to all our teams last night at an event in the build-up to the Games. And this morning I was talking to all the Mayor’s teams at City Hall... so the days are long. I’m normally up by 4.45am and working – one way or another – by 7am, and I don't finish until late in the evening.“

Running is in my blood
“I try to run every other day, though it’s not always easy. It tends to be in the morning, and when I’m travelling it’s usually in hotel gyms. I work through the weekends, but I try where possible to carve out some time for my kids, which is very important.“

I couldn’t have made it through the past 10 years without my wife
“She has been an amazing person just to have around, really, for the past decade.“

There are no easy days
“If I could give the organisers of the Rio 2016 Olympics some advice, it would be to recognise that it is tough. But you know, this is given to very few cities. If it was easy, every city would be doing it. I’d also tell them to understand that every day is a challenge, but to trust your instincts and trust the judgements of local people as well – because they follow closely what you’re doing.“

Never count the days – make the days count
“The athlete in me tells me never to focus on anything other than the finishing line. Every minute of every day you have to focus and work and add value to everything you do, because it’s the small details that make the difference between a good and a great Games – particularly for the competitors. We’re in great shape, but we will be working right up to the starting pistol.“

Sarah Shephard @sarahsportmag