Recently I have been going through a concerted phase of reading about the Olympic Games, and middle-distance running in particular. This led me to delve deep into my "archives" to re-read the book "Sebastian Coe - Coming Back", by David Miller, published in 1984.
This is not a biography as such, but it documents that phase in Coe's career from the end of the 1981 season through to the aftermath of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. It examines the runner's recovery from two years of illness and injury to retain his Olympic 1500 metres title.
What makes this work doubly interesting is that it covers a period when the sport of track and field athletics itself was going through a time of transition, when commercialism was being allowed to rise to the surface, and when inevitable growing pains were being encountered. Indeed, there are several instances here where those commercial pressures seemed somewhat at odds with the long-term interests of certain British athletes.
Coe was dogged by misfortune and setbacks in 1982 and 1983, and his often turbulent relations with the British press are examined here, as he is written off, and parts of Fleet Street revert to their traditional practice of knocking sports stars when they are down. A hardening of Coe's attitude reached its culmination in his famous gestures to the press box after crossing the finishing line in the 1500 metres final in Los Angeles.
This focus on his dealings with the media is just a part of a wider look at the Coe psyche and temperament. He displayed a resilience and a resourcefulness which many were unaware he possessed, in overcoming adversity to regain past glories. By the time of the '84 Olympics, one becomes aware of a serenity, almost, mixed with a confident resolve to succeed.
Another interesting aspect of this book is its close look at the training methods employed by Coe and his father/coach Peter, and how these were modified to suit the special circumstances of 1984. It becomes apparent how consummately he had peaked for his second Olympics, although I am left wondering how much the problems of 1983 might have actually played a role, by dictating the time when the athlete could begin serious running again.
Reading a book published in 1984 allows one to be "wise after the event.". The author, for example, assumes in his calculations about the post-1984 athletics landscape that the Soviet Union and East Germany would still exist by the centenary Olympics of 1996. Also, Coe's proposed move up to the 5000 metres event, much discussed within these pages, never really materialized. Also, he did eventually capture that cherished major title over 800 metres (at the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart).
An enjoyable and interesting read, this one.