Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sporting Heroes : Sebastian Coe

Sebastian Coe - British middle distance runner.

The 1980s were a golden period for British middle distance running. Our athletes ruled the world and two of the biggest names in the sport were Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. The intense rivalry between these two phenomenal athletes is documented in this superb book, suffice to say that in Britain you were either an Ovett or Coe fan - there was no inbetween. It was the best athletics rivalry since Bannister vs Landy in the 1950s. Every time they ran was exciting - they broke and rebroke each others records (most notably in 1981 when between them they broke the mile world record three times in 10 days), and both won gold in the other's event at the olympics. This was the kind of drama that made the middle distance races headline events at athletics meets around the world. Ovett was so good that one of his trademarks was a cheeky wave to the crowd. Not as he crossed the finish line, but as he overtook the last of his rivals 100m from the finish line!!!

Coe was the only person to hold world records in the 800m, 1500m and the mile all at the same time. He broke his own 800m world record again in 1981 in a time which would not be bettered for 16 years (look at how quickly he opens the gap over the last 300m in the video above).

But what really appealed to me about Coe was his intensity. He maybe wasn't as talented a runner as many of his competitors, but he was so mentally strong, had an incredibly intense training regime and an amazingly fast finishing kick that could destroy the opposition. He once said that the most important distance to conquer is the distance between your ears. It's a quote I often go back to during my ultras, and for my money he was one of the most mentally tough athletes of all time.

A favorite Coe story concerns a snowy and icy Christmas day in 1979. He had gone for a hard 12 mile run that morning and felt good with the workout. But after Christmas lunch he started to feel uneasy and wasn't sure why. Then he realized - "I bet that bastard Ovett's out there doing his 2nd session of the day". So he went back out into the snow for another run. And added in a hill workout.

Long after they'd both retired, he told Ovett about it. Ovett's reply - "you only went out twice that day"?


Jeff said...

Coe is right behind Zatopek and Viren for me. He was so amazing and exciting. I have a book on running legends that I reread all the time. I can't get enough of the stuff. Let us not forget about Nurmi and Kuts!!

steve said...

Another classic - thanks for posting! I was definitely on the Coe side of the fence but also respected Ovett for his talent and achievements.

Both books you mention are classics. Actually, I just finished the Perfect Mile (again) on the weekend - great story.

So, I wonder who will be next in the series? Ian Botham? Daley Thompson? Steve Davis? Can't wait to find out..

And, yes, you were spot on with the Superstars - Brian Jacks the squat thrust king, Kevin Keegan falling off his bike, Keith Fielding winning World Superstars! Good times..