Olympic legacy: Lord Coe reveals how he organised the greatest show on earth without even using a computer

A year after London 2012 Lord Coe says all that matters is the playing of sport

Prepare to be inspired. Prepare to be dazzled. Prepare to be moved.” One year on, Lord Coe’s words at the opening of the London 2012 Olympics have a resonance few can disagree with.

As the first anniversary of the Games approaches, the man who did more than most to inspire, dazzle and move a nation remains as laid-back about it all as he was on the morning of the Opening Ceremony when 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,” he mouthed, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

What we did not know then was that the man who masterminded the greatest hi-tech sports event in history was a techno philistine. Lord Low-tech, as he calls himself, doesn’t tweet, has never sent a text or an email, or even used a computer. “I have no technical skills at all – my lack of technological understanding is legendary,” he laughs. “I use a phone as a phone.”

Now the British Olympic Association’s chairman, he recalls how a few weeks ago he was in a hotel abroad where, to his absolute horror, everything was operated by iPad. “I slept with every single light on, the television going, the air-conditioning blowing. I kept thinking: ‘Oh please, someone just give me a fucking light switch!’ At one point I tried to sleep in the bathroom! It was the only room that didn’t have 27 lights on!”

The stage lights may have dimmed after the curtain came down on the East End smash hit but the leading man says he has never felt any sense of anti-climax. For him, the Olympic show goes on. “I have always genuinely thought of this being a 20-year project. I won’t be doing it in another 20 years, even 10, but when I had the conversation with the Prime Minister about doing the legacy role [he has an office in Downing Street as the Government’s Olympic legacy ambassador] I saw that we needed to get this right structurally in the first year.

“I believe we have made a good start but we shouldn’t sit here pretending that it is going to be a line that will go straight up. It never has and it never will. But we are in a much better position now to capture the excitement of last year. There is now a greater confidence in British sport. Team GB showed other sports that Brits can be winners. Just look at what has happened this summer.

“I’m not sure we can claim Andy Murray as a legacy issue but I feel he did more in those three sets at the Wimbledon final than the LTA have ever done to encourage more kids to play tennis in inner-city centres. We have always used the ‘Wimbledon syndrome’ as a sort of sporting shorthand – the tennis racket comes out for a week over Wimbledon, a week later it goes back under the stairs. Then, for the next year, we wonder why we’ve never had a Wimbledon champion. Well we have one now.

“I’d hate people to think there’s something random about this. The risk is that we feel this level of success is cyclical; it’s not. There’s nothing random about what Andy Murray [also a gold medallist] has done. He’s been doing this for 10 years, competing at the highest level. There was nothing random about what the Lions did, with a great crop of competitors, or Rory McIlroy or if we win the Ashes.”

“We have to get out of the mindset that we are forever grabbing victory out of the jaws of defeat. We are not any more. So we must lose this habit of thinking, ‘Oh my God, we’ve waited 77 years for Murray to win Wimbledon and we’ll have to wait another 77 years for another to come along’. It would be a national disaster if we wait another 10 years to get another player in the top 10.”

High among the aspects of the Games which pleased Coe most is that the public so enthusiastically embraced the Para-lympics. He tells how he used to dread getting into taxis before the Games. “When drivers tended to talk to me for the last seven years it was normally a bit of a rant. ‘I can’t get my cab down the Olympic lanes, you’re going to close the roads, it’s going to be a bloody disaster, why is it costing us so much?’ So when I was in a cab a few months ago and the cabbie turned round and said, ‘You’re that Lord Coe, aren’t you?’ I’m genuinely thinking of shortening the journey to save myself some grief!

“Then he said, ‘I have to be honest, it was great’. I was waiting for the ticket onslaught but he said he got tickets, including the 100 metres final, in the ballot. ‘You won the lottery,’ I replied. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘That Usain Bolt’s good, but do you know the thing I most enjoyed – and you’re not going to believe me – was the Paralympic dressage.’ At that point, I was thinking, ‘Are you taking the piss?’ But he was absolutely serious. He said, ‘My kids loved it as well’.”

Coe is 57 in September but the Olympic experience doesn’t seem to have aged him. “I hope my sanity is still well intact. My health is good.” The biggest personal toll, he admits, was on his four children. “There were moments when they had to do without me around. That was probably more painful for me than for them!

“I tried when I could to get to many things with them. They were really understanding. I don’t think my youngest daughter can ever remember a time when I wasn’t doing this. She’s 14 now but she was three or four when I started. I once remember apologising to her, saying, ‘Sorry Alice, I can’t be there’. ‘It’s alright, dad, we want the Games too,’ she replied. That was when we were bidding! They were very forgiving about it.

“I look back on it as being an extraordinary time in my life but if I’m being honest, I don’t think it was a sustainable lifestyle for some of us. I doubt we could have gone on at that level for another six months. By the time we got to the Games we were running on empty.”

Naturally Coe is still running, about 30 miles a week. “Any time I can. I couldn’t function without exercise. I am not obsessional about it, I don’t have to run every day, but I do have to run. That’s my thing.”

There has been speculation that the one-time Tory MP might run again in another political race – for mayor of London in 2015. David Cameron certainly wants him to, but it seems improbable, as in the same year he will fight another election, to become president of world athletics. Whatever. The one certainty is that what will be, will be.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape