AP Interview: Coe says track and field must look beyond Bolt

AP Interview: Coe says track and field must look beyond Bolt

Published Feb. 26, 2015 8:00 a.m. ET

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (AP) It's no secret that Sebastian Coe is a good friend of Usain Bolt.

A photo of them together in Jamaica appears on both their Twitter pages this week, Bolt's hand resting casually on Coe's shoulder. The 100-meter world record holder describes Coe as ''Good Company'' in the post.

Yet Coe, a two-time Olympic middle-distance champion now running for president of track and field's governing body, feels athletics needs to find life beyond Bolt if it is to keep up in an ultra-competitive sporting market.

''One of the challenges we have is to show that we have athletes other than Usain Bolt. And I'm a big fan of Usain Bolt,'' the British great said from France in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ''We have great athletes and we have to really shine a light on them so our sport is not just about Usain Bolt.''

Coe recognizes that's pretty tough considering the superstar status of the Jamaican sprinting sensation.

''That's a bit like going to the boxing community in the `60s and `70s and saying boxing is not just about Muhammad Ali. Because Usain Bolt is in that category,'' he said.

Coe wants to be president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, which will choose a new head in Beijing in August ahead of the world championships. Coe and Ukrainian pole vault great Sergei Bubka are candidates to succeed Senegal's Lamine Diack, who has led the IAAF since 1999.


The 58-year-old Coe has solid credentials: He won gold in the 1,500 meters at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, and headed the organizing committee of the widely-praised 2012 London Games. He has been an IAAF vice president since 2007.

In terms of leadership, the IAAF probably sees change less often than most bodies. It has had five presidents in its 103-year history, and the last time world athletics had a new leader, Bolt was a 13-year-old kid in the Caribbean only just discovering that he wasn't half-bad at running.

''We don't have elections that often,'' Coe said. ''You know it's for the sport to decide on a vision for the next 20 or 30 years, and I've put my vision forward.''

For Coe, athletics must ''embrace change'' and he said his vision is especially about getting youngsters excited and involved.

He wants a shake-up of the meet calendar to allow fans to see the best compete against each other more often. He has spoken of the battle for attention that athletics faces from other sports, like tennis and regularly seeing Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, and from soccer and blockbuster rivalries like Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.

''Our sport has many, many values, but the shop window of our sport is competition,'' he said. ''We have to be open about it. We are also in the entertainment business and we need to entertain and excite young people.''

That means the likes of Bolt and 800-meter world record holder David Rudisha running against their biggest challengers far more often, not just at the Olympics and the worlds.

''This is not a `nice to have.' This is essential,'' he said.

Amid scandals in Kenya and Russia, and following scrutiny of Jamaica's testing program after the 2012 Olympics, Coe said he's also aware of the ''reputational issues'' that doping has created recently for track and field. Pressed on the IAAF's fight against doping, and its apparent shortcomings, he defended the sport.

''No sport has done more to challenge drug abuse,'' he said, stressing the IAAF spends $2 million a year on anti-doping, more than it does on marketing. ''We test more than any other sport. Our top athletes are tested more regularly than any other sportsman or woman on the planet. And it's the wrong conclusion to draw that any of these federations are in test-free zones.

''I would rather have the short-term embarrassment of a spike in positives because the testing systems are working.''

If you gauge a candidate's chances in an election by the number of places they visit and people they talk to, Coe has a good shot in August. He was in Jamaica with Bolt a few days ago, and will be in Ethiopia before the week is out.

''Since August last year I've flown around the globe about three times,'' he said. ''I do think it is important that if you are offering yourself up for election, that you make the effort. You can't do this by email and by telephone.''


Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP