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Sebastian Coe: 'When you run a hundred miles, a couple of beers isn't a problem'

Sebastian Coe: 'When you run a hundred miles, a couple of beers isn't a problem'

The one discussion that’s never been resolved in sports science is what is a stitch? You can speak to any number of physicians who won’t really give you a straight answer to that. All you know is when you get one it’s bloody painful.

I’ve never bet on myself. My father did on one occasion. That was the 1984 Olympic Games. On the morning of the 1,500 metres, he got me at about 11 to one. He did alright out of that.

When I moved to Sheffield and went to a secondary modern in the Seventies there were certain challenges; if you’ve got a name like Sebastian you either learn to fight or to run. That was quite a tough school. There was corporal punishment. One teacher had a car aerial, which used to sting on the hand. The plimsoll was painful, too. I can’t say that it did me any sort of lasting mental damage, but I think you have to assume that it is better never to resolve issues by violence.

I was the Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne from 1992 to 1997, when the people spoke in a very big way. I spent two years as a candidate. Bizarre photo opportunities? There’s no threshold for embarrassment. Standing looking interested at sewage outfalls and things like that. Eating Cornish pasties...

I’m such an odd mix of things. My grandfather was Indian: I’ve got more family living in India than I do in the UK. My old man was east London. I was brought up in Yorkshire. My great-grandfather was Irish. I’ve just tended never to see the world through the wrong end of a telescope down the M25. I suppose I’ve absorbed stuff from all over the place and I don’t see myself as belonging to anywhere in particular.

People say, “You and Steve Ovett didn’t get on”. We didn’t know each other at all until ’84, towards the end of our careers. I found that we had remarkably similar senses of humour. He lives in Australia now.

If in doubt, don’t.

I can be a bit impatient sometimes. If I’m really focussing on something I can expect everybody to move at the same pace and that’s probably not massively endearing.

My middle name is Newbold. That’s a bit of a Northern thing, using the maiden name of a grandmother for a first son. Sadly for my son Harry, we’ve maintained that.

I go back to ’67 with Chelsea. Which player gave me a feeling of unadulterated joy when I watched him? Gianfranco Zola.

There’s a difference between hurting when you lose and being
 a bad loser. You don’t compete at the highest level of sport to feel comfortable about losing, but you behave in a civil way when it goes wrong because that is the flip side. You enter willingly, knowing that sometimes it isn’t going to work out. I hated losing.

My wife always finds it quite amusing taking me to a restaurant because I tend to eat the same thing most of the time. Arrabiata... salad... spaghetti pomodoro... salad. I like grilled chicken.

You can start anywhere you really want with jazz but there’s no point asking me about much post-1958. My interest goes up to Billie Holiday and Lester Young. This sounds pretentious, but from the age of six or seven, I listened to jazz because it was on in the house all the time. The best man at my dad’s wedding was a guy called Coleridge Goode, one of the greatest bass players that’s ever really come out of this country.

When you’re running a hundred miles a week, a couple of beers after a day’s training isn’t a problem. I think we’ve got rather obsessed with diet. I didn’t drink during the race. I like good whisky. I occasionally have coffee and a cognac at the end of an evening; mainly I drink beer.

I’m not sure I could say that I enjoyed the 2012 Games as it happened. If you look at the thousands of moving parts, the key things that we got right were done by an obsessive eye for detail. There were extraordinary sporting moments — particularly Team GB — but there was a group of us that were so deep in the boiler room that it was a bit difficult to see beyond the next phone call.

My father said something to both myself and my brother once when he heard us having a typical teenager conversation around the table about a girl, or girls. He brought us up quite sharp and said, “If you heard your sister being talked about like that, how would you feel?” That was a good way of looking at it.

I’m useless at cooking. I’ve got slightly better but only to the point where I could now do some pasta. I’m pretty good at making fires. In the house? Yes, I’m not an arsonist.

There are moments when you’re disappointed because you just know you’ve fallen below what you think was humanly possible out there but I don’t think I’ve ever really felt like a failure. I’m not one for dwelling on what might have been when what might have been wasn’t. You just kick on.

Margaret Thatcher was prepared to challenge the orthodox. I like people that do things differently. Whether you agree or disagree with her politics, she had a very fixed view about what she thought could be done. That’s not a left or right thing; Tony Benn is one of the most impressive politicians that I’ve ever met.

There’s a release of expectation when the Olympic torch arrives. I remember smiling when people said, “It’s not going to be that exciting.” Going though little villages, they were standing 10 deep on the pavement. I always thought that the Games would engage people, but I guess that was the affirmation.

I retired when I knew I couldn’t run any faster.