Alan Hubbard: What a difference an Olympics makes
Wednesday, 08 August 2012
"The London of a year ago is not one I recognise," says Lord Coe. "I am delighted and relieved that the world is now seeing the London I do recognise."
Barring unforeseen mishaps between now and next Sunday night, Seb will have fashioned an astonishing Games, one of the most successful ever, and unquestionably the finest episode in British sporting history, lapping even England's football World Cup victory in 1966.
He has done so with professionalism and panache and the result, so far, has been beyond anyone's wildest dreams including, I imagine, his own. True, there have been some pockets of discontent, notably the distribution of tickets and the subsequent embarrassment of empty seats at several venues, the one legacy he never wanted.
But otherwise it has been gold all the way, not only for Team GB but for those behind the athletes and those in Coe's team who have masterminded such a brilliant operation. Best of all, I think, has been the response of the public, with smiling faces everywhere and a genuinely welcoming warmth among volunteers and Games makers that matched that in Sydney and even occasionally surpassed it.
Like the woman soldier drafted in after duty in Afghanistan who at a security checkpoint, suggested to my young grandson that before he walked through the X-ray machine he must do his exercises. "Arms stretch, knees bend," she ordered smilingly. "You've got to show me how fit you are before we let you in to watch the Olympics.
Another told my granddaughter to walk through backwards: "Go on just for a change."
A gold for good humour. And what a comparison with the Heathrow Gestapo.
Have these been the best Games ever, as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge surely will proclaim? Certainly up there with Sydney as the best of the dozen I have attended, and amid the rainstorm of GB medals and plaudits from home and overseas, Coe has sailed through it all taking everything in his stride as elegantly as he did in his supreme running days.
On the day of the Opening Ceremony I encountered him strolling casually through the Olympic Park, ear glued to his mobile. "Good luck Seb," I said. He smiled nonchalantly: "Que Sera, Sera" as if he didn't have a care in the world.
When the curtain finally comes down, you can bet they will be dishing out as many gongs as there have been gold medals – Sir Brad, Sir Ben, Dame Jess and maybe even Baroness Victoria and quite a few fistfuls of CBE's, OBE's and MBE's. I expect Sir Keith Mills, the London 2012 deputy chair, to be elevated to the peerage and there has to be a knighthood for chief executive Paul Deighton, who has been the lynchpin of the whole operation. The ex-Goldman Sachs man is surely one banker not held in opprobrium. He has even bucked the trend of his former trade by not taking his annual bonus, of around a quarter of a million pounds, which he donates to charity. "Hiring him was the best move I ever made." Coe told me.
And there really must be special K for Dave Brailsford, architect of the most successful team for the past two Olympics running-or rather pedalling- and finally nailing the Tour de France for Britain. This man surely has re-invented the wheel.
As he happens to be the chairman of the Sports Honours Committee, Coe will supervise the list of those who are to receive awards and this is one occasion when he can afford to be generous. But what of his lordship himself? What do you give the man who has everything? He is already a peer and a knight (he was made a KBE in 2006 in recognition of London winning the bid), so no doubt the powers that will be scratching their heads as to how best to reward him. One idea is to make him a Companion of Honour alongside the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench and the Queen herself. But there is speculation that he could go even higher and receive the Order of Merit which is limited to 24 living recipients at any one time and is regarded as the most prestigious honour of them all.
Coe has certainly come a long way since the days back in the 90's when Princess Anne called him a prat – or a word suspiciously similar. It was when Manchester were making an abortive bid for the Games and the news was relayed to HRH, an IOC member for Britain that Coe was assembling an exploratory group to prepare the bid for London, believing the capital had the only realistic chance. "What a Pratley," she murmured tetchily to those around her.
Now of course, they are bosom pals – they were even on the dance floor together when London celebrated that winning bid in Singapore seven years' ago and Coe has probably become the nearest thing to Royalty you can get without actually donning a coronet and I am told on good authority that it was actually he who broached the idea of that Bond spoof at the Opening Ceremony to the Queen herself.
And what of his own future once the Games are done and dusted. He assures me he won't be returning to politics, real politics that is, but sports politics are a different matter. His eye is firmly fixed on the presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which would lead to an automatic seat on the IOC where, in a decade or so, he could even become President.
He must wait three years for the IAAF opportunity when present incumbent Lamine Diack steps down and will have a fight on his hands with new IOC Executive Board member Sergey Bubka, a mighty iconic Olympian. But after the glories of London, you would expect Coe to win this one.
While waiting he could be put in charge a combined UK Sport/Sport England, a much-needed merger currently being orchestrated by Keith Mills.
And there will be pressure on him to become either President or chairman of the British Boxing Board of Control, not least from his good friend, the promoter Frank Warren who has mounted a campaign, backed by scoress of licence holders, to remove the present chair, Charles Giles. Coe is a great fight fan and a former steward of the Board, but whether he will relish this particular scrap is open to question. Whatever, it is unlikely he will be lining up at the Job Centre alongside the lesser mortals in the London 2012 team who will be seeking fresh employment.
The paramount post-script will be what 2012 will mean to youngsters in Britain. Inspire a Generation has been the buzz-phrase. But will they?
The lessons must be learned, particularly by the Government and its Education Minister Michael Gove, rarely seen here during the Games and who only this week gave the go-ahead to 21 out of 22 applications for the sale of school playing fields.
This is not what these Games were supposed to be all about, for as Coe himself says: "The legacy for school sport is paramount. Space has to be found to make sure that all kids, particularly in the state sector get good, high quality education and sports facilities. This opportunity is never going to come round again. It is the vehicle of our lifetime. There is inevitably a limited window...We need things in place to capitalise on that spike in interest."
Vindication has been the name of these Games. Vindication of the money spent on them and of preparing the finest ever collection of British athletes. However, what remains to be seen is how long the feel-good factor will last. The Olympics have given Britain a much-needed make-over as a nation in terms of patriotism and philosophy and the hope has to be that what they have done for the country and for sport will linger long in the consciousness after the first Rooney groin strain nudges the euphoria off the back pages. For once, I might just bet on it.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.