Seb Coe pushes bid for 2017 track worlds

Updated: November 3, 2011, 5:10 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- Sebastian Coe has spent the past eight years spearheading London's winning bid and preparations for the 2012 Olympics. Now he's devoting himself to another London bid for a high-profile sports event -- one especially close to his heart.

"If you'd said to me five or six years ago that I would be involved in another bid, I would have responded I think you might need to put me in a white coat and sit me quietly in a corner of a room," Coe said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"I never envisioned doing this."

Yet the former middle-distance running great is just as passionate about this new project as he is about the Olympics, maybe even more so.

Coe is one of the key figures behind London's campaign to host the 2017 world track and field championships, an event that would be held in the Olympic Stadium and deliver on his promise to deliver a lasting legacy for the sport in Britain.

"Personally it's important for me because it's my sport," Coe said. "It's almost defined my life. ... It's the sport that's given me everything. You can take the boy out of track and field but you can never take track and field out of the boy."

London is competing against Doha, Qatar, for track's showcase event. The International Association of Athletics Federations will select the host city in a vote of its 27-member council in Monaco on Nov. 11.

Coe was re-elected in August as an IAAF vice president and will be among the voters.

"I was very clear when I stood for the vice presidency of the IAAF that I'm committing myself for my remaining productive days, among other things, mainly to that sport," he said.

Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters, led the bid that culminated in London's victory over Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow in the IOC vote in Singapore in 2005 for the 2012 Games. In his speech before the vote, he stressed that the Olympic Stadium would remain as a long-term facility for track and field.

"It's important that we are able to properly utilize an extraordinary investment in the sport of track and field in this country," said Coe, who is chairman of London's Olympic organizing committee. "I can't think of any other country in the world where that investment in track and field infrastructure has been made in the last decade."

London's world championships hopes have been burned in the past. The city was awarded the 2005 worlds but was forced to renounce the event when plans to build a new stadium in the Pickett's Lock area were scrapped. Plans to bid for the 2015 championships were dropped amid uncertainty over the future of the Olympic Stadium.

"The fact that we haven't staged a major championship before -- it just doesn't feel right," Coe said. "Track and field is deep in the DNA of us as a nation. It's important for us to be able to showcase our sport and our history.

"We've been limited in our ambitions because the infrastructure was not available. Now we're not limited. We have a stadium. It's in place. It is state of the art."

Coe became a global figure in the 1970s and 1980s as a star in the 800 meters, mile and 1,500 meters. In addition to his Olympic titles, he set eight outdoor and three indoor world records in middle-distance events and had legendary duels with fellow British athletes Steve Cram and Steve Ovett.

"I do think this is arguably our most successful national sport in the last 50 years," Coe said. "Track and field in the U.K. has created some of the most indelible world moments in sport."

London faces tricky competition from Doha. Qatar has already won the right to host the 2022 World Cup and Doha is also bidding to host the 2020 Olympics.

The scorching heat in the Gulf country is an issue. Doha plans to air condition the main stadium and hold the marathons at night when temperatures are cooler. It also proposes holding the championships in September rather than July or August to avoid the worst of the heat.

Without comparing the bids, Coe said London has a "global reach" with strong sponsorship and television markets and passionate fans. He cited the huge demand for tickets for London's Olympic track and field competition.

"I know I'm going to be able to report back to my council that in essence this will be the first time we have sold out every session of track and field from the first day to the closing ceremony," Coe said. "I know we will do that as well for the world track and field championships."

The 2017 bid has been caught up in the wrangling over the future use of the $764 million Olympic Stadium. The venue was originally awarded to West Ham football club but after a protracted legal challenge from rival Tottenham -- which proposed ripping out the track and building a football-only venue -- the plan fell through.

The government announced recently that a a new tender process would be held, with the stadium to remain in public ownership and be rented out to an anchor tenant. The Olympic Park Legacy Company said the running track will remain no matter what.

"I was very clear in Singapore. There was no ambiguity," Coe said. "I said that our Olympic legacy, among other things, would be a track and field facility. That's why I felt as strongly as the day I said it as I do now."

Despite reports of delays in the new stadium bid process, Coe said he is confident the OPLC will have finalized the future tenant before the Olympics start on July 27.

"We actually have a venue. We actually have a stadium," Coe said. "The track is there. There's a 400-meter track. There's a warmup track. For 2017, it's arguably a better track and field facility than it is for 2012."

The stadium, with a capacity of 80,000 for the Olympics, will be downsized after the games. For the worlds, the venue would hold about 60,000 spectators.

IAAF President Lamine Diack has told Coe that he has a responsibility to deliver an outstanding track and field competition for the Olympics. Beyond that, Coe has his own mission.

"Post 2012, I think I have a responsibility to put something back to a sport that's given me everything I currently have," he said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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