Svein Arne Hansen, the European Athletics President who died aged 74 on Friday, had a gift for communicating. You knew it as soon as you met him. He had passion, and sincerity. He had warmth. He had humour.
In the all too often cold-eyed world of sports politics, contact with Svein Arne was a pleasure. You were speaking to a real person. And the conversation, almost invariably, would end with a chuckle.
This is not to suggest he was lacking in guile. You don’t get to do what he did - take over and nurture one of the great annual sports meetings at the Bislett Stadium before moving on to guide and invigorate a continental federation and become one of the most influential voices within world athletics - without finely calibrated ambition.
He was a wily coyote all right. But you always felt that, for Svein Arne, what he did was truly about the sport, rather than himself.
I don’t claim to have been a friend of his. I knew him professionally and I always felt we got on well. He was one of the people with whom I most enjoyed dealing. You can’t mistake the inner signals when people walk into a room. With some, the heart sinks. With Svein Arne, always, it lifted.
That reaction was on a personal level. But as a journalist it also involved anticipation that you would be getting some kind of a story - a happy story, a slightly off-message story, an angry story, but…something.
It is a small detail, but one I remember. I was trying urgently to get hold of Svein Arne for a quote. He was back in Oslo - I think - and I was on another continent and under some pressure to cover an unrelated sporting event. He had given me his number, but when I called it was not a good time to speak. He said he would ring me back an hour later. He did. And he gave me a quote.
As well as being responsive, Svein Arne was pro-active. I remember being hailed by him last summer when I was covering the European Games in Minsk. I had finished an interview at one of the official hotels and was walking out when I heard my name being called from the direction of the breakfast bar, where Svein Arne was having a meal with some companions.
He had something interesting to tell me. And there was something even more interesting he would be able to tell me about - soon.
In a world where leadership and the lack of it stand in ever more stark contrast, Svein Arne was, in his own world, a proper leader. You have only to look at the wealth of warm tributes to him from colleagues and athletes to know that.
So sad to hear of the passing of president of @EuroAthletics Svein Arne Hansen. He was always so encouraging and supporting. I will always remember him smiling and joking around. RIP pic.twitter.com/0Bx7TzG67p— Katerina Stefanidi (@KatStefanidi) June 20, 2020
Greece’s current Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, for example, tweeted: "So sad to hear of the passing of president of @EuroAthletics Svein Arne Hansen. He was always so encouraging and supporting. I will always remember him smiling and joking around. RIP"
British sports administrator Cherry Alexander commented: "So sad to hear of the passing of my big boss the President of @EuroAthletics Svein Arne Hansen…he paved the way for me to be only the 2nd female Vice President of EA and was always so supportive & full of encouragement & advice…I and the sport will miss him so much RIP"
Eamonn Coghlan, Ireland’s world 5,000m champion of 1983 - a warm and astute man - tweeted tellingly: "Great man, the Athlete’s Man. RIP my friend".
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, who set his first two world records, at 800m and the mile, in Oslo in 1979, commented: "Today I lost one of my closest friends. He gave me my first big international break in athletics in 1979. He was a game changer in our sport, a proud family man and an effective and wise leader who helped generations of athletes fulfil their dreams."
European Athletics is deeply saddened to announce that its President Svein Arne Hansen has died at the age of 74 on Saturday.— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) June 20, 2020
Svein Arne was European Athletics’ fifth president and was first elected in 2015 and then re-elected last year.https://t.co/2HXCbIE7j1 pic.twitter.com/dPSG2Rpo7o
Coe added in a World Athletic statement: "He brought a professionalism to our one-day meetings that is still the template today and crucially he had the political savvy to be able to do that and navigate the sport from an amateur era into becoming an open sport and then a professional sport when there was a real risk that fault lines between East and West Europe could split the sport apart."
Aptly, it was in Berlin - that former faultline of East and West Europe - that European Athletics staged in 2018 what Svein Arne considered to be the "best ever" version of its Championships.
I wish he had had the opportunity to make numerous further comparisons. But given that he is gone, I am glad it ended in this fashion. Rightly, he gloried in those nine monumental days of competition in the equally monumental, and jam-packed, Olympic Stadium of 1936.
Looking back at some of our email conversations over recent years, I noticed this exchange we had in 2017, shortly after the London World Athletics Championships.
I had asked him if he could help me with a story about arrangements for the second projected multi-sport European Championships in 2022, of which European Athletics would be a key part.
Svein Arne had not been well in London, and he said he had been told by his doctor to take a few weeks off.
He gave me some detail and added that he could probably give me some more info in a month’s time. After dealing patiently with two follow-up questions, he also responded to my final, less formal message which was prompted by the fact that, when he was not engaged in sporting matters, Svein Arne worked as a stamp dealer.
"Philately note - after a random conversation in Brussels, I looked up today how much one of the England World Cup stamps would be worth, with the word Winners printed on it. Such a stamp was proudly collected in my album at the time. After consulting sites, I find that dealers are now offering a standard price for this stamp. 10p!
"Well I like it anyway so I am keeping it...!"
To which he replied:
"I will be doing my stamps the next 2 weeks, some are worth 10p, some more."
True of men also.