on 22 November 2012
You wonder how long this book or the idea of this book was a glint in the eye of Seb Coe.
He has had so many opportunities throughout his glittering career to have sat down and put pen to paper to tell "my story" but averred. Something must have told him to hold on, just wait, and not make a hasty dash for the line,- until this year- the year of perhaps his greatest triumph- the London 2012 Olympics. In this regard Seb Coe and his autobiography are very different from the hordes of other autobiographies rushed out to make the most of "ten minutes of fame."
The book starts off with Seb's 'roots' and the story of his father, Peter Coe.( the ultimate "autodidact" as Seb puts it). His personality explains a lot about the latter father-son relationship which is discussed in a very open manner ( yes, Peter Coe did tell his son that he ran like a c*** after the 800m at Moscow where he won Silver) and generally the book did not have the feel of hagiography ( Seb is honest enough to recount what he perceives as personal failings and this does create a more rounded and realistic self portrait). What you do also realise if you didnt already know this was that when it came to running, Seb Coe was a very lucky man indeed in the choice of his highly analytical father. In this regard I think the 'old man' would be pleased with his son's efforts to set the record straight about their relationship.
The story rapidly moves on however to look at athletics, and writing about the most fascinating aspect of Coe's life (for many of us) was always going to be a fine balancing act- I mean the Coe versus Ovett story. I initially thought this bit was a little undercooked but then on further reflection saw that most of the hype and media interest in the pair was just that- hype. After all these two did not run against each other that frequently and were not all that close- how does one manufacture up some 'great rivalry' out of that? (However if you are interested in more of this, Pat Butcher does an okay job at tackling this theme in The 'Perfect Distance, Ovett and Coe'.) Nevertheless you can't help feeling that Coe is maybe holding out a little on the reader in terms of how he felt about Ovett at the time.
Coe covers the Olympic periods of Moscow and LA and most interestingly Barcelona and why he didnt make it,- which when seen from the perspective of our poor more recent middle distance running achievements is quite sad.
Then we have a large section devoted to life after sports as an MP and then working for William Hague- interesting how some of the most amusing (laugh out loud) bits cover this period! - before getting the job of 'landing' and then 'running' the 2012 Olympics.
Overall a very interesting story, with a number of genuine learning points in there for sportsmen and those interested in leadership and coaching (though it is an autobiography not a manual!)- I did however note some typo's and also more importantly some factual errors whith regards to performances. This is something that could easily have been fact checked before printing:
(eg Flo Jo's 100m record was set in 1988 not 1984 and doubts as to its veracity are more to do with the timing equipment than confirmed drug taking. Then, Linford Christie who came third and not fourth in Seoul and was elevated to Silver not Bronze when Ben Johnson was banned.)
These are probably just accidental slips of the fingers on the keyboard by a man with a lot to do - but then again Seb and Linford don't exactly get on do they? More importantly, when even I can spot glaring errors like this it makes you wonder about other errors beneath the surface. This, for me, definitely rubbed off some of the gloss on what was otherwise an enthralling, well written (ghosted?) and enjoyable read.
on 15 November 2012
This is a book written on the back of the great success, for which Coe can claim a lot of the credit, of the London Olympics and Paralympics. The author gives a lot of insights into the bidding process and help received from diaparate people as Ken Livingstone, Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell, John Prescott and Juan Antonio Samaranch, though I felt he skated over Samaranch's dubious record in the Franco era.
The book is long (470 pages of text, plus illustrations)and I found the first few sections dealing with his childhood and adolescence, the most interesting. His father Peter played a huge part in his success as an athlete, and he paints a justly admiring picture of his father, who was regarded by the athletics establishment as a bit of a heretic. Seb, too, had several brushes with the sports authorities until recent times, and once he was famous was exposed to more than one made-up story in the tabloids, two of which he successfully sued.
The athletics part of the book - the major part, obviously - races along at breakneck speed, interrupted by the period as a Tory MP (despite having grown up in a Labour area) which was a principal ingredient in the breakdown of his first marriage. There is a good account of his 'rivalry' with Steve Ovett, exaggerated by the media.
There are one or two sloppy uses of English ('equally as') which is all that stopped me awarding the book five stars. Incidentally there is another book by a fellow Olympian, though a less distinguished one - but of course there is no copyright in titles.
All autobiographies are self-serving and largely uninformative while occasionally providing genuine insights into the writer's personality. Coe's 'Running My Life' ticks all three boxes although in respect of the latter it is unlikely Coe would like what it reveals which is Coe's single agenda, Seb Coe first, Seb Coe last and Seb Coe everywhere between. If the grass roots had the opportunity to vote for the IAAF Presidency (a post which Coe covets) it would do so on an ABC platform of 'Anyone But Coe'. Coe has never been in touch with grass roots athletics in Great Britain and the 'legacy' of the Olympic Games has been one of tracks closing, facilities (such as they ever were) deteriorating and monies catering for the elite which has been his environment throughout his career.
Coe claims he has been misrepresented as a soft Southerner getting the nod over Peter Elliott the tough of the track from Yorkshire when they were brought up quite close to each other in Yorkshire. Quite fairly he pointed out it was impossible to attend a secondary modern school in Sheffield (which he did) with a name like Sebastian without experiencing trouble and learning to deal with it. Yet he remains aloof with no fresh ideas on resurrecting a sport that is dying on its feet but re-presents the ideas of others such as street racing which is of no relevance to club level athletes training on sub-standard tracks. Not long ago Jack Buckner presented a report which purported to address the problems facing athletics in Britain to which Coe happily wrote a foreword. It was savaged in the athletics press as inadequate, irrelevant and out of touch, just like Coe himself.
Coe is hostile towards the press but only when it doesn't conform to his 'I know better than you' attitude which characterises his public pronouncements. Such pronouncements annoyingly lack passion, even when he is on his high horse about drugs. Yet if Coe has a beef with the press he has only himself to blame. He writes, 'what people took for arrogance was the preference for my own company'. The book includes many photographs but the one which defined him in the eyes of the British athletics fraternity is missing. That was when stood sulkily for his bronze medal after the Moscow 800m. By way of contrast when Steve Ovett finished third in the 1500m he was smiling and magnanimous in defeat. It was at that point Ovett won and Coe lost the grass roots support which he does not understand.
There are hints of things of 'me against the world' and too much credit given to his father for rejecting Lydiard's LSD (long, slow, distance) approach which had brought success to Peter Snell and Murray Halberg. Apparently he seems unaware that club coaches all over the country were unconvinced by Lydiard's methods which were regarded as a passing fashion. Athletics coaching is not about applying a 'one size fits all' philosophy but of understanding the physiological and, above all, psychological needs of each individual athlete. Athletics is a combination of the physical and the mental and most athletes are 'mental'. When this reviewer spoke to Peter Coe many years ago, he emphasised his background as an engineer applying problem-solving techniques. Coe takes this into unwarranted territory claiming, 'Even in the late sixties, physiology in relation to exercise was a relatively new specialisation'. Perhaps he's too young to remember Geoff Dyson's 'The Mechanics of Athletics' (1961) which was used by many top class coaches including Tom Tellez who coached Carl Lewis. Similarly he claims his father managed to get hold of the Russian and East German training manuals and had them translated which is surprising as the latter was available in hardcover by 1978
Most of Coe's reminiscences are of athletics conducted at a rarefied level but there experiences which grass roots athletes will recognise and endorse, including the ridiculous militaristic nature of the English Schools' competition. Rather like 'Team GB' athletes are often forced to travel together and stay in a team environment (even at the Olympics) unless of course one was sleeping with the team manager. No wonder Tessa Sanderson was annoyed!!! Coe admits that, contrary to the amateur rules, he was accepting money for competing in major races, although he blames that on the rules rather than his own dishonesty. By way of contrast he never mentions that receiving times from his father on the inside of the track was also against the rules as they were then.
Coe served as a Conservative MP but was out of his depth, blindsided by more experienced operators. He spent several years as William Hague's right hand man, using the opportunity to build on the networking he had done during his athletics career. In many ways his lack of passion echoed that of Hague who said, 'The problem is I'm conservative with a small c. I never get too excited by the best but I never get too depressed by the worst, because reality is usually somewhere in the middle and I can't keep flying into these synthetic rages to order'. That to some extent explains Coe's aloofness and apparent lack of passion. If anything he is annoyingly calm which is why anyone not close to him cannot relate to his pronouncements. The word 'delivery' appears more often than in a maternity unit. He may not be synthetic but that's how he seems.
Coe was richly rewarded for his role at the London Olympics (which many believe should have gone to France) whereas the corrupt process of international sport allocation worked against England's bid for the 2018 World Cup. There is little in this book to undermine Coe's egotistical image and plenty to reinforce it. Yet it would be churlish to award it anything less than four stars as it reveals Coe's true personality. Some may find it attractive, this reviewer does not. In brief vote Bubka.
on 28 January 2013
This was really well written and brought me back to my teenage years when I followed athletics fervently. When you get used to Seb Coe's ability to remind everyone just how wonderful he was/is then it is a fascinating read. The difference to other autobiographies of sports stars is that he has a wonderful story to tell of all of the strands of his life. Not to be missed
on 28 April 2013
I've just finished this book and I must confess I did not want this to end. This was such an entertaining read. Fascinating, humorous, inspirational and uplifting from start to finish.
Being around the same age, I've grown up watching many of Seb Coe's achievements from Olympic titles to world records. In his book he talks honestly and frankly about his rivalry with Steve Ovett, life as a politician, how the political system works, working for William Hague, and the absorbing, honest, enlightening, and at times comical revelations of how the Olympics were won.
I've been surprised at some of the revelations that have been made in this book, especially about mainstream political figures, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, he holds nothing back.
His honesty and at times humorous anecdotes are what makes this book so enjoyable. His recap of the Olympics rekindled those wonderful feelings of bursting pride and magical spirit that consumed everyone. His recall of issues surrounding the obtaining of planning permission for Greenwich equestrian events, the exploits of our athletes and his recapping of the positive comments that other global entities were saying about our Olympics. All of this was hugely entertaining.
This book is truly inspirational, and although he's already achieved more than many of us can only dream about, it seems Sebastian Coe is not ready to sit back just yet, as illustrated with his closing comments. "Although my children consider me ancient, I'm still only in my mid fifties. And while I may no longer hope to run faster, jump higher or be stronger, there's still a lot I want to do with my life. I'm not ready to slow down yet"
on 27 April 2015
Seb Coe’s autobiography is that rare phenomenon, a sportman’s life story that demands to be told. In contrast to the average book-releasing Premier League footballer, this remarkable man has led an extraordinary life — as athlete, MP and the spearhead of London’s 2012 bid. The result is a riveting read of a man who has lived life to the full.
First, you get an insight into life as a professional athlete, the dedication it requires, the highs — when you feel you’re untouchable — and the lows, when your powers are in decline. Next, you get a taste of what life is life as an MP and a candid account of those Coe crossed paths with (he is refreshingly outspoken about those he has come across, who have attracted respect and disdain in equal measure). Finally, there is the fascinating tale of how he managed to turn around a losing bid for the 2012 Olympics and brought it to London. This is followed by a nostalgic account of that special summer.
As the book goes his, his constant attempts to defend himself and prove that every decision he made was right ware thin. Ironically, he has no problem being self-critical about his performances on the track, but when it comes to his ‘professional’ life, he seems to have a blind spot.
It feels like every chapter should conclude: ‘Needless to say, I had the last laugh.’ It seems unnecessary.
Even if you don’t always like him or agree with him, what can’t be denied is that this has real substance. The stories he shares and the numerous opinions he gives mean the book is always engrossing. And that can’t be said for most sporting autobiographies.
on 31 August 2013
Really inspirational stuff. I read his previous book 'The winning mind' and enjoyed that. Coe is so much more than the great athlete who successfully defended his Olympic 1500 metre title at LA 1984. He's never stood still really since he was a toddler by this account and has experienced the highs and lows of elite sport, politics and of course, the bidding and successful delivery of London 2012. There really IS something for everyone in this book and you don't have to be fan of track and field to fully appreciate it. It's refreshing to read a sports book that hasn't been 'ghost-written'. I'm sure I'm correct in saying this, which shouldn't have surprised me anyway as the guy is highly articulate in all his interviews and is a fine communicator. There are also little insights into some of the equally inspirational figures he's worked with along the way, some of them lesser known but talented people in their chosen fields. It's funny but the most amusing part of the book for me was the chapter about his involvement in the unsuccessful bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2018. You're left with the impression that Coe's undoubted talent was wasted by the footballing world and that particular chapter tells you so much about how soccer is run in the UK. He's far too talented to become involved with football anyway. In summary, the guy's an inspiration and I can't wait to see what he becomes involved with next.
on 17 March 2013
If you are looking for a book which will keep you entertained, but at the same time inspired then this is the title for you.
Sebastian Coe is one of our greated middle distance runners ever. He is quick on the track, but yet remained determined throughout his athletic career to continue pushing himself as hard as he possibly could. Not one to rest on his wins and successes, he continued to push hard, and was rewarded with gold medals in the 1500m at both the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and Los Angeles 4 years later in 1984.
After retiring from athletics, he then went onto be the MP for Famouth and Camborne from 1992 to 1997. Again he showed his determination to succeed and became Parliamtary Private Secretary to William Hague who at that time was cmapaigning to become the leader of the Conservative Party.
The crowning glory of Coe's life though has to be his involvement with LOCOG who were responsible for staging the 2012 Olympic and Plaralympic Games in London which gave everybody that feelgood factor.
This is a book which will inspire you, and yet keep you interested as there is always something around the corner to cause surprise.
on 7 February 2013
I really enjoyed reading Seb Coe's autobiography and recommend it to anyone interested in sports or politics. It is well written and very interesting.
on 22 January 2013
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Surprisingly witty and a great insight to a good guy! From little acorns and all that...