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LONDON EXPECTS WITH PETER SIMPSON

Sebastian Coe's next prize could well be IOC's top job

London's bid leader has delivered the most successful Games in years and it would be foolish to rule him out of a race for Jacques Rogge's role

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2012, 9:28pm
 

Legend has it that the London 2012 Olympic bid came about over a morning cup of coffee in the canteen of the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland some nine years ago.

The then culture secretary of the Labour British Government, Tessa Jowell, was handed in August 2002 a file by a civil servant mandarin recommending highly that London did not bother making a bid for the 2012 Games.

Huge costs and unfathomable complexity were involved - plus the collective political and public will was severely lacking, the report claimed. Embarrassment over the Millennium Dome white elephant and the farce being played out over the building of the new Wembley Stadium and Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport ensured such a large project would fail to attract the necessary risk-taking involved.

Worse, Britain's great rival, France, had stolen a march on London and had been wining and dining the IOC. They had the IOC votes in the bag and Paris was almost certainly to be chosen to stage the 30th Olympic Games, so why bother to risk humiliation with a bid that was bound to lose?

But the diminutive Jowell was reluctant to so easily sign off the document that would consign a 2012 Games bid to the bin. Why couldn't London bid for the Games, she queried. So in early 2003, she flew to Lausanne and met with IOC president Jacques Rogge. Over coffee, she asked Rogge for a frank answer to a candid question. Was there any point in London sticking in a bid or was Paris the chosen one?

The ice-cool, measured Rogge - a former Olympic sailor - replied Paris was indeed the favourite among many IOC officials but nothing was absolute. No one could presume the French had already won, said the Belgian. Nothing ventured, nothing gained was his frank and candid message.

An optimistic Jowell returned to London and after meeting the then London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the pair approached then Prime Minister Tony Blair. They said a London Olympics would regenerate a poor part of London and inspire a generation - living in a country looking rather unwell on the fat of life - to take up sport.

Blair agreed. A 90-strong bid team was put together, and among the squad was serial Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe. The key theme was taking sport to the younger generation. The generation in mind had long been turned off sport due to a number of factors, among them the advent of computer games, lazy parents, fast food joints littered up and down every high street, the sell-off of school playing fields and bizarre new age and PC anti- competition mentality.

In 2005, the bid team flew to Singapore and Coe told IOC members of London's ideals and its planned main legacy - the revival of sport among the young. "To make athletes, it takes millions of children around the world to be inspired to choose sport," he said.

His simple calculation tickled the feelgood sentiments of the officials. The London pitch was clear cut - to inspire the innocents to take up a shot putt, put on trainers, straddle a bike, dive in pools and play in the park and aspire to be medal winners.

Of course, Coe was backed by equally clever, creative and determined men and women. Their collective iron discipline, acute planning, flair, innovation and "no compromise" approach have made London 2012 such a golden success.

But Coe, the Locog chairman, has been the face of the Games. His singular vision and determination to inspire millions around the world to take up competitive sport and be ambitious has been branded into our conscience.

The former politician is an expert media handler and is often described as cold and lofty. He is honest and often blunt to the point of being thought of as rude and arrogant. He shrugs off hype and superlatives. The famous middle distance runner is the first to admit that unless the legacies bring long-lasting benefits, he and Locog have failed.

These traits are the hallmarks of an athlete who has set his goals and intends on reaching them. His characteristics may not win friends but win worldwide admirers and cause action. He once upset UK athletes by claiming they were greedy and spent more time with their accountants and not enough time with their coaches. The remarks upset many but since he made them there have been medals galore.

It is right, then, that he is being rewarded by the British Government with a new role once Locog hangs the closed sign up on its office doors come next month.

Coe has been recruited by the British Prime Minister David Cameron as a special adviser. He will offer advice on all aspects of the Olympic legacy, from how to make sure more sport is played in schools, more volunteering takes place, business opportunities are realised and every Olympic venue utilised.

Cameron has called Coe "the magician behind the Games" and as a present, has plucked from the treasury's cash-strapped hat £125 million of government money and lottery funding to ensure Team GB maintains a stable of elite athletes for Rio 2016.

Britain will wake up today facing its uncertain future with greater optimism than it did 18 days ago. The Olympic movement, too, after seeing how a Games can be organised and run on time and under budget with legacies and whole load of fun to compliment the jaw-dropping athletes, will also want to keep the 2012 spirit burning long into the future.

London was devoid of the chaos that blighted Athens 2004 and was in stark contrast to the sterile atmosphere of Beijing 2008. Little wonder then Coe is being touted for the top IOC job. Current IOC president Rogge steps down next year and Coe probably does not have enough current backing to be a natural shoo-in. Besides, he said he will seek the top job at the International Athletics Association.

But as many are speculating, the Olympian won his middle distance medals by getting his timing just right - surging to the front of the field when it mattered most. It would be wise not to rule him out of the IOC race. His "no compromise" approach and steely determination are attractive and he might rid once and for all the bribery and nepotism claims that plague the IOC.

For Coe, the end of the London Games might just be start of the home straight and a winning sprint to Lausanne.

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