With two years to run, Coe says London in 'killing zone' of its Olympic preparations race
By Philip Hersh
Tuesday marks two years to go to the July 27, 2012 opening of the London Summer Olympics.
To the man running the 2012 organizing committee, it is like being in the back straightaway of an 800 meters you are expected to win.
``It's the killing zone in the 800,'' Seb Coe said Friday. ``Everything you do in the back straight determines the platform you create in the finishing straight.''
And who knows that feeling better than Coe, one of the greatest middle-distance runners in history, who won two Olympic silver medals in the metric half mile and held the world record for the distance from 1981 through 1997?
``I broke 13 world records, and I don't intend to break the 14th by being the first president of an organizing committee not to have it ready on the day we're supposed to,'' Coe said during a conference call with international media.
And the biggest danger at this point in a race that began when the International Olympic Committee awarded London the Games in July, 2005?
``That you're not in the right position to get it across the line,'' Coe said. ``This is the business end of the race now. You don't want to make errors, you don't want to be off the pace.''
As boss of the London 2012 organizing committee, the two-time Olympic champion at 1,500 meters has run an operation that flew on the fast track of the world economic boom and now must deal with the consequences of the world economic bust.
While London 2012 is responsible only for the operation of the Olympics and Paralympics, it inevitably is seen as sharing guilt for the tremendous cost increases involved in the government's massive urban redevelopment project that is part of London's Olympic Park.
The government's Olympic budget has more than doubled from the $6.1 billion projected in 2005, and the Olympic Park costs continue to be the flash point for critics of the London Olympics.
The head of Britain's treasury this week announced an austerity budget that will include higher taxes and across-the-board government spending cuts of 25 percent over the next four years. Coe said that situation will not affect London 2012 planning, although the government said in May it was cutting some $42 million from the Olympics budget.
``I don't think we're doing anything today we wouldn't have been doing any way,'' Coe said. ``We won the bid in the high water mark of the world economy, but at the time it was central to the bid that we deliver the Games in a responsible, sustainable way.
``Of course, you wake up each morning wanting to do it in a more cost effective way but one that doesn't impact the client groups you're out to deliver a memorable Games for. I recognize we are in an economic climate where we have to make a very strong argument that this is a project of national interest.''
Coe insisted the jobs being created and maintained by Olympic venue construction and Olympic Park rehabilitation are a boon to the British economy, particularly during the current economic crisis.
Asked whether London 2012 felt any discomfort with having BP as a principal sponsor, given its image as the villain in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Coe simply reaffirmed his support for a company that has been London's Olympic partner since the bid phase.
``We have a world-class business that shares our vision and are a fabulous partner and will be our partner right the way through,'' Coe said of BP.
On a more mundane matter, Coe said there have been no ongoing discussions with NBC, the U.S. television rights-holder, about moving event times to accommodate a U.S. audience. That would be very difficult, given that London is only five hours ahead of New York -- but some have speculated about midnight events for NBC's benefit.
NBC got Beijing organizers to switch swimming and gymnastics finals to the morning in China so, with a 12-hour time difference to New York, they aired during U.S. prime time.
``In one of the first conversations I had with Dick (NBC sports chief Dick Ebersol), he raised the subject, and he was very clear he was working in a very benign time zone with us and was very happy to allow us to set the time schedule as we felt it most benefited the Olympic movement. There has been no pressure at all (for time changes).''
Coe knows time, in the general sense, no longer is his ally in preparing for July 27, 2012. For a man who spent decades racing not only rivals but the clock, that pressure is welcome.
``I get more excited every day the Games gets closer,'' he said. ``I'm a competitor. Bring it on.''
Lower photo: Sebastian Coe beats teammate Steve Cram for the 1,500-meter gold at the 1984 Olympics, when Coe became the only man to win two golds in the metric miler. (Associated Press / Dave Tenenbaum.)