Sebastian Coe accomplished many things as an athlete, but his defining moment came at the 1980 Moscow Games when his expected victory in the 800m turned into one of the worst experiences of his sporting life; he responded by winning the 1500m that was supposed to have been property of Steve Ovett.
It’s 36 years since that fateful concatenation of circumstances. And one year into Coe’s Presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations a case can be made for saying that he is experiencing a similar turn of events.
When Coe ran for the Presidency last year in competition with his sporting contemporary and fellow IAAF Vice President Sergey Bubka, he declared: “There is no task I have been better prepared for. There is no job I have ever wanted to do more and to do with greater commitment.”
Once installed, he found he was living the Moscow 800m experience all over again – but this time, instead of lasting 1:45.9, it has been months and months.
Judging by his relaxed – if weary - appearance at a press conference on the last night of athletics action in the Olympic Stadium, it seemed as if Coe now feels he is a position to re-build rather than merely salvage the IAAF ship of which he took command in August last year.
One response to a series of rather weary questions from a press corps already just a tad demob-happy at the end of the Rio 2016 Games was particularly telling in the use of his phrase – “back in the dark days.”
There may be trouble ahead…there almost certainly will be trouble ahead. But sitting next to his sleek and newly installed Chief Executive Officer Olivier Gers, Coe looked like someone who believes he has a handle on a situation that clearly pushed him to his formidable limits when he came under savage criticism from all sides almost as soon as he had taken over the role he had slogged to achieve in a year of travelling and campaigning.
The phrase “careful what you wish for” came to mind very forcibly as the man with the golden touch – both as an athlete and an administrator – turned briefly into an unfamiliar, bearded, hunted figure.
On his first day at the IAAF office in Monaco there was a visit from the French police – and it wasn’t a courtesy call. Like a bucket of water balanced on the door of Coe’s new Presidential office, trouble tipped all over him - trouble that had been coming ever since the previous year’s airing of an ARD documentary on German TV revealing that Russian athletes and coaches were complicit in a state-wide doping system.
The revelations, triggered in part by the whistleblowing of Russian 800m runner Yuliya Stepanova and her husband Vitaly Stepanov, led to a two-part investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the first details of which, released on November 9 last year, corroborated many of the allegations.
In the meantime the French police had launched their own investigation into allegations of malpractice and corruption which centred upon the outgoing IAAF President Lamine Diack.
By the time the initial WADA report came out, Diack and several other top IAAF officials had been arrested in France. The ex-President now faces charges that he took payments of around one million euros from the Russian federation for deferring sanctions against some of their drugs cheats.
On January 16 this year the crisis deepened with the publication of the second part of the report by WADA’s Independent Commission, which was chaired by International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound.
It reported that Diack had installed one of his sons as an employee of the IAAF, contracted another son as a consultant and put in place a friend as Presidential legal adviser and that he had thereby created a group which functioned "as an informal illegitimate governance structure outside the formal IAAF governance structure".
The report continued: "Lamine Diack was responsible for organizing and enabling the conspiracy and corruption that took place in the IAAF. He sanctioned and appears to have had personal knowledge of the fraud and the extortion of athletes carried out by the actions of the informal illegitimate governance structure he put in place."
Coe was reported to have “turned white with shock” when he learned of the depth and scope of the allegations against the man whom, on the day of his election as the new IAAF President, he had described as “our spiritual president” – a soundbite that has well and truly bitten him back.
In countless different forms since then, Coe – who became an IAAF Vice President in 2007 – has been asked the question that was brutally put to him last November by Channel 4 News anchorman Jon Snow – was he “asleep on the job? Or corrupt?”
Coe’s response has been: neither. He has said that while he was aware of gossip about the Russian doping crisis during his time as a Vice President, he had no idea of the depths of corruption that were later revealed.
On the eve of the IAAF’s decision over whether Russian track and field athletes should be allowed to compete in international competition given the widespread doping regime which had been uncovered, a BBC Panorama documentary alleged he had received an email with information about the Russian doping scandal four months before the first of the ARD TV documentaries came out.
Coe insisted he had sent the email straight on, without opening the attachments, to the IAAF’s independent ethics commission which, with his active assistance and support, had been established in 2014 for just such a purpose. As such, the email wasn’t his pigeon.
Asked if he would have done anything differently in retrospect, Coe told The Guardian: “I’ve sat in my quieter moments thinking about. If you look at the immediate issues, it’s difficult to see how, once the ethics commission was up and running and Pound’s commission was up and running, during that period we could have inserted ourselves into a process that was already underway.”
The second WADA report concluded that the IAAF Council “could not have been unaware” of the problem within Russian athletics.
But Pound was insistent that the problem was an organisational one, and that President Diack “was responsible for organising and enabling the conspiracy and corruption.”
He maintained, to dismay of many of Coe’s more vociferous media critics, that the man who had played a major role in securing and then organising the London 2012 Olympics was best placed to take the IAAF forwards.
"This is a fabulous opportunity for the IAAF to seize this opportunity and under strong leadership move forward from this, but there is an enormous amount of work to do,” said Pound.
"I can't think of anyone better than Lord Coe to lead that."
Four days after the initial WADA report had been published, the IAAF Council had voted – 22 votes to one, with the Russian member ineligible to take part – to provisionally suspend the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) from competition.
Coe commented at the time: "This has been a shameful wake-up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated.”
On June 17, Coe chaired the IAAF Council meeting in Vienna that would rule on whether to maintain that suspension or not in the wake of a report an independent IAAF Task Force –chaired by Rune Andersen - which had assessed the situation and visited Russia to inspect new arrangements in the anti-doping set up.
The Council endorsed the view of Andersen and his Task Force that Russia was not ready to come back to track and field athletics.
This was arguably where the 800 metres experience began to be replaced by something else for Coe, and in retrospect it has grown in stature as a statement of intent in the context of the International Olympic Committee’s decision, clearly chiming in with the wishes of its President, Thomas Bach, not to enforce a similar ban on Russian competitors across the board.
At some point, Coe must have weighed his IOC ambitions in the balance and decided he had to stay in his heartland.
“It’s non-negotiable - I want our organisation in two years’ time to be seen as a leader,” he said last month. “And it will. It’ll be better than anything the IOC has got on the books. It will be better than anything Fifa will agree to in principle. This stuff will be through in December of this year.”
In Rio last week he was able to announce that the IAAF Council had approved the series of profound changes to their governance which he insisted would make “a massive difference” to the sport.
The new structures, which cover areas such as integrity, anti-doping and disciplinary measures, will be put before the membership at an Extraordinary General Meeting on December 3.
The IAAF Council will become a body of 26 elected members, dealing primarily with sporting issues, as distinct from an executive board which will have more to do with business, sponsorship contracts and planning.
An independent integrity unit will look after anti-doping, and the anti-doping budget will double to $8 million a year, also doubling the international testing pool of athletes to 1,000.
There will also be an independent unit for disciplinary matters.
Coe took the opportunity to defend the IAAF decision over Russia’s athletes, maintaining that there had been a “cataclysmic failure” by Russia to “protect and oversee its athletes, and adding: “We are working to reinstate Russia, but we have to ensure we have a level playing field.”
Asked to comment on the IOC stance, he replied enigmatically: "The IOC made a judgement that was endorsed by the IOC members and I'm not sure I can add much more to that.”
Coe has received a significant – if measured – vote of confidence from the German TV journalist behind the ARD documentaries, Hajo Seppelt.
"A year ago he was calling our coverage “a declaration of war”, Seppelt told insidethegames. “But it is obvious that his approach after this weird comment has more and more changed within the last year.
“The way IAAF is dealing with the doping issue is - at least currently - by far more convincing than in the other big International Federations.
“It is obvious that they act different now. Maybe they have learned their lesson. For sure it's also a good PR for them.
“So let's wait and see if they will continue this way. But it is remarkable. I wonder if the friendship between the old buddies Bach and Coe is the same as before."
Another factor which has played well for Coe is the IAAF’s attitude to the Russian whistleblower Stepanova who, despite having served a doping ban, was praised for what she and her husband had done for the sport, and offered a chance to compete under a neutral flag.
European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen, very much of the same mind, followed through with all that as Stepanova competed at last month’s European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam.
The IOC, though,appeared to go out of its way to bar her from taking part.
This was, they claimed, due to her "long implication in a doping system" and that she "does not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games".
The couple were instead invited here to watch the Games, something they have dismissed as an "attempted bribe".
Anyone reading this, or observing the presence of myriad athletes who have served doping bans who have been free to compete in Rio, can only conclude that there is a bit of an agenda going on here. And it appears to work against one of the principles that has always most genuinely animated Coe – that of putting athletes at the centre of the Games.
Hansen has been a steadfast supporter of the new IAAF President. The two men go back a long way, as Hansen’s long tenure as promoter of the Bislett Games in Oslo included several stellar performances including two of the three world records he broke in a space of 41 days in 1979 – over 800m and the mile.
“I have known Seb for many years,” Hansen told insidethegames. “I have known him as an athlete, breaking four world records at the Bislett meeting, so I know all about his guts and his toughness.
"It's been a really strange year. But Seb is a tough guy ... he has been the right man on the job, even in this extremely difficult time he has been a leader.”
Hansen further believes that Coe, overlooked for IOC membership this year, should renew his case sooner rather than later.
“I would recommend that Seb should join the IOC because we need to have a strong voice there for athletics,” Hansen said.
“For me it is very important that we are the real No.1 sport in the Olympics.
“If he doesn’t want to be there he must make sure that those who are there for the IAAF speak with a strong voice on behalf of the sport.”