BEIJING — After a final promise to the international track and field community that he’d always fight in their corner, Sebastian Coe won the election to replace Lamine Diack as IAAF president and took up the immediate challenge of restoring the image of a sport grappling with a doping controversy.
The 58-year-old Coe received 115 votes to Sergei Bubka’s 92 in the poll Wednesday in Beijing, where the world championships kick off Saturday.
Few doubted Coe’s commitment or credentials. He’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters, is a former Conservative Party lawmaker in Britain and was integral in London winning the bid and then hosting a successful 2012 Olympic Games. He said he’d traveled 700,000 kilometers (435,000 miles) during the campaign to visit the national federations "in their backyards" and, unlike Bubka, was only running for the top job without the fallback option of vice-president.
"This for me is the pinnacle. It’s my sport, my passion. It’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do," said Coe, who earlier had told the IAAF congress that election victory was the most momentous occasion in his life besides becoming a father.
He praised Bubka for contributing to a campaign that "has given the sport a chance to pause for breath … (and) renew itself."
"Elections are a good opportunity for the sport to sit and think about its future. I’m sure we’re stronger for having been through that process," he said.
Bubka, a former Olympic and world champion pole vaulter and long-time world-record holder, retained his position as a vice president in a subsequent poll.
"I know athletics in the future will grow and become stronger and stronger. Nothing changed in my life. I will continue to serve athletics with dignity and big passion as I did before."
The IAAF election, held in the lead-up to the world championships has been overshadowed by intense criticism of the world body following media reports that it has failed to act on evidence of widespread blood doping.
German broadcaster ARD and Britain’s The Sunday Times newspaper citied leaked test results from a 2011 study in an IAAF database and asserted that blood doping was rampant in the sport.
The IAAF last week denied it had tried to block publication of the study, and confirmed that 28 athletes had been caught in retests of their doping samples from the 2005 and 2007 world championships but said none of the athletes will be competing in this year’s competition.
Coe, who last week described the allegations as a "declaration of war" against the sport, has proposed a fully independent anti-doping tribunal to deal with the issues. In his opening address to the congress, Diack said the IAAF had always been at the forefront of the anti-doping campaign in sport. Coe later echoed the sentiment.
He declined to set out the specifics of the independent testing, but said he’d be working through it with his council before and after Aug. 31, when he formally replaces Diack, the 82-year-old Senegal official who is standing down after 16 years as IAAF president.
"There is a zero tolerance to the abuse of doping in my sport. I will maintain that to the highest level of vigilance," Coe said. "That is something … I will want to discuss with priority."
There were 211 eligible member federations voting in the election, with Afghanistan and Iran absent and Gabon under suspension. There were changes across the IAAF committees.
● Dahlan Al Hamad, Hamad Kalkaba Malboum and Alberto Juantorena were elected as vice-presidents along with Bubka.
● Jose Maria Odriozola of Spain was elected as treasurer.
● USA Track and Field president Stephanie Hightower topped the list of six elected as female individual council members.
In his last pitch to members at the congress, Coe vowed to share and widen responsibility for running the sport while committing himself fully to the role.
"I’m not asking to take power. I’m asking to share power, and to spread power," he said. "I will always be in your corner — your fight is my fight."
Both Coe and Bubka campaigned on the importance of engagement youth around the world, revamping the event calendar and revolutionizing the way the sport is presented.
"Our product is athletics, but our business is entertainment," Coe said. "We need to look, as we are, at the way we present both the calendar and the way our sport looks, particularly to young audiences."
Diack had not publicly endorsed either Coe or Bubka in the presidential election, but was delighted to see his successor was from "a new generation coming up and a man who has devoted his life to the sport."
"It’s a great moment we’ve just lived," said Diack, who received an award as an honorary life president of the IAAF. "We can say our sport is in safe hands that are able to carry it up to another level."