London 2012: Seb Coe says “bring the competition on”
For a man who knows the world is about to judge him on the strength of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Lord Sebastian Coe is very calm.
Then again, the former athlete has been working on delivering the Games for more than seven years now, so he’s well prepared.
Sitting in his office on the 23rd floor of One Churchill Place – LOCOG’s offices in Canary Wharf – a few weeks before the Games Lord Coe is easily able to conjure up memories of the day in Singapore when London was announced as the host of the 2012 summer Games.
“We sat there, most of us disbelieving that we’d heard the president say London. It was an extraordinary moment.
“I kept getting messages from friends and family at home.
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“It came home to me at midnight Singapore time in a much bigger way because we went to say thank you to all our teams, and at midnight, of course, it was 6pm back in London, and the BBC put a big screen up where we were having our thank you party and they showed the 6 o’clock news live. And that’s when suddenly we realised what a big impact it had had, not just in London, but around the UK, actually right around the world.”
The Princess Royal and David Beckham were among those in Singapore, but so were young people from east London, and it is these youngsters who stay most in Lord Coe’s memory.
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He says: “I keep in touch with all of them. It has been great, the most important memory in Singapore, the one I look back fondly on, is really about working alongside the young people.”
The bid, which set out the priorities for London 2012, is always on his mind.
“We think about the bid all the time because it’s important to never forget what we said in the bid.
“Every day our challenge has been to deliver against what we said in the bid, whether it was about young people, whether it was about the regeneration of east London, whether it was about getting more of those young people playing sport.”
Legacy is almost a byword of these Games, but sport comes first.
Lord Coe says: “We must never forget this is a sporting event. It’s very easy for people to start talking about budgets, and bricks and mortar, and drainage ditches, and legacy.
“None of this would have happened if we had not had the Olympic Games. East London would not have been regenerated at this speed or in the scope that we now witness had we come back empty-handed from Singapore. People talk about the legacy, but actually the legacy’s already there. The creator of all this is sport.”
Among the benefits is the creation of top sporting venues.
“I am a Londoner and I am proud that in my lifetime we have delivered for London venues it’s never had,” he says. “This may come as uncomfortable reading for some people, but London had been allowed to fall way behind the pace of other big national cities.
“I’m not talking about Paris or Barcelona or Beijing, I’m talking about Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham. The people of London have been short-changed for many years on sporting venues.
“So we have left London with a legacy for sport, not just elite sport but sport for local communities as well.”
How does Lord Coe want these Games to be remembered?
“I hope the history books say the London 2012 Games were a Games for everyone,” he says.
“I hope they observe and record the thousands of people the length and breadth of the country that have contributed their time, energy and resource, whether it’s volunteers, torchbearers, whether it’s people working in local communities and businesses to help the Games be successful.
“I hope they record the generosity of spirit of Londoners and people throughout the UK to come in behind the project and help get it across the line.”
On the cusp of staging the greatest show on earth, does he have any nerves?
In a reference back to his own successful athletics career, he says: “The athlete in me tells me it’s time to bring the competition on.”