LONDON – What if the Soviet Union didn’t invade Afghanistan in 1979?
And what if the United States and more than 60 other nations didn’t boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics as a result?
Would Sebastian Coe still have won the first of two 1,500-meter Olympic gold medals on the track?
Or would Coe have nabbed a second-or third-place finish against a more formidable field in Moscow?
Would he have become a respected athlete instead of a megastar?
Would he have risen to such prominence in society that one day he would become the chairman of the London 2012 Olympic bid?
And if Lord Sebastian Coe hadn’t accomplished what he did, would another figure head have spearheaded a successful bid for London?
We’ll never know all of the above, because history has already happened.
Life’s funny sometimes. You probably won’t know which events and circumstances will become life-defining moments until decades later.
This keeps things interesting, eh?
Coe presided over a magical night at Olympic Stadium on Saturday, when Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford brought home the gold in the men’s long jump, Olympic poster girl Jessica Ennis captured the hearts of millions in her homeland by winning the women’s heptathlon and Somali-born runner Mo Farah delivered a fantastic finish to snatch the men’s 10,000-meter race on the track all within an hour’s time.
The future is bright for British athletics and the 55-year-old Coe is a perfect role model at the top of the Olympic movement here.
“We’ve really got to build on that,” he told Sky Sports, commenting on the success of British athletes at the 2012 Summer Games. “This isn’t going to be a case of ‘We’ve had a fantastic Olympic Games and it’ll happen without further management’, but this is the best opportunity any of us will have in our lifetime to get more young kids into sport.”
What makes Coe such a visible figure besides his overwhelmingly positive role as the public face of the London Olympics is his non-confrontational attitude toward the press. He has long viewed the press as a vital element to any successful endeavor in the public sphere.
“I’ve always said this: the longest and truest sponsors that sport ever has are journalists. It’s not television, it’s not radio, it’s the written press,” Coe was quoted as saying recently in a Sports Journalists Association of Great Britain article. “And the longest relationships I’ve had with anyone in the media are those I’ve had with print journalists. So the links, particularly at local level, are really, really strong.
“Every sport has to remember that its strongest relationships are to be found in the paragraphs that you guys, week-in week-out fight to get into the newspapers.”
Sure, Coe was stroking the ego a bit for a journalists’ trade publication, but the larger point is an important one.
His role within the International Olympic Committee and British sports has greatly increased over the past few years, and his likable personality has helped him create a legacy beyond the big-boss-in-a-suit role he currently has.
Now I know speculating about if a war was never waged is not your typical starting point for a sports story, but Coe’s life and work were greatly impacted by what took place in Afghanistan, and the impact of a series of events is so profound for him and Britain to this day.
In decades past, life moved along at a much slower pace without instant communication devices and every aspect of our existence chronicled or available in real time. This lifestyle comparison can be seen in the way people view the Olympics.
The marathon was once the most compelling, must-see event.
At the 1908 London Games, the London Evening Standard wrote, “the world then was fascinated by the ability of the human body to endure physical pain and suffering during a sporting contest.”
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s successful defense of his 100-meter Olympic title demonstrated “that what moves us now is to discover who is the fastest man on earth rather than the one who can bear pain the longest,” the Evening Standard wrote.