Peter Coe, coach and father of Sebastian, dies at 88

Alan Hubbard
Sunday 10 August 2008 00:00

Lord Coe, the London 2012 Olympic Games chief, was preparing to return to London after the death yesterday of his father and coach, Peter, at the age of 88.

As an unconventional but inspirational mentor, the formidable Peter Coe had turned his son into a world-record-breaking, Olympic gold-winning middle-distance runner, arguably the greatest of all time.

An east Londoner who was born close to the proposed site of the 2012 Olympic Stadium, he had no experience of athletics before his son, Sebastian, showed promise in the sport. His passion was cycling. He became dissatisfied with the progress Coe was making as a 12-year-old middle-distance runner, calling the coaching methods "outdated". He took over, applying his logical brain to biomechanics and translating East German and Russian text books on physiology.

He was criticised for being too physically punishing, but has since been acclaimed for being ahead of his time. He coached his son to two Olympic 1,500m titles and 11 world records. After Coe had been beaten by Steve Ovett in the 800m – his specialist distance – in Moscow, his father bawled him out, saying: "You ran like an idiot."

"Slow running produces slow runners" was his mantra, and he introduced to his son's training a programme of short bursts rather than miles and miles at a slow pace. Lord Coe said recently: "My dad took the old methods apart. As athlete and coach, we were inseparable. The trouble with British athletes today is that they spend too much time with their accountants and not enough with their coaches."

At the age of 19, Peter Coe was one of five to survive when their merchant navy boat was torpedoed in the Atlantic during the Second World War. Picked up by a German boat, he was put to work in the kitchen because he spoke fluent German. He later escaped by jumping off a train taking him to a prisoner of war camp. He then walked through the day and night to Spain, where he was jailed for six months and badly beaten .

After the war he movedwith his family from Middlesex to Sheffield, where he worked as a production engineer for a steel cutlery company.

Lord Coe once recalled his father having a fierce row with a British athletics official. "After wards I said to him 'You don't scare easily.' He replied: 'I don't scare at all. The past 45 years have been a fucking bonus.' That fearlessness made him a great man to have in your corner. He had an extraordinary influence on my life."

Lord Coe, who always referred to him as "my coach" rather than "my father" in his running days, remained close to him when he became ill after the death of his wife Angela three years ago. When he began to lose his sight, his son would go round to his house every Sunday and read him the newspapers.

Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, said yesterday: "In the world of coaching, he was inspiring and influencing. There are few in the history of British athletics of whom it can be said that they are truly among the greats. Peter Coe had a quiet determination and concentration to detail. His contribution to Seb and to British athletics was always of gold-medal standard."

Lord Coe had delayed his arrival at the Beijing Games to spend time with his father in hospital, missing London's presentation to the International Olympic Committee and the opening ceremony.

He arrived here early yesterday morning and his father died several hours later. He plans to return to London once the funeral arrangements are known.

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