Olympic values with legendary Olympians Seb Coe & Ian Millar
One is a double Olympic champion, has successfully bid for and delivered an edition of the Games and now serves as President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), while the other is known as “Captain Canada” and competed at a world-record 10 Olympic Games. There are perhaps no two better qualified people to discuss the role Olympism plays in modern society than Sebastian Coe and Ian Millar.
By the time Great Britain’s Sebastian Coe took to the track for his era-defining middle-distance battle with compatriot Steve Ovett at Moscow 1980, equestrian star Ian Millar had already competed at two Olympic Games. Remarkably, 32 years later Coe was at the helm of London 2012 as Chairman of the Organising Committee, Games which marked Millar’s 10th appearance as a competitor.
For the indefatigable Canadian, the Olympic Games have, way beyond the team silver he won in Beijing in 2008 aged 61, played a defining role in his life. It is a sentiment two-time 1,500m champion Coe agrees with wholeheartedly.
In your long and distinguished Olympic careers, what has been the standout moment?
Ian Millar (IM): Winning the silver medal at Beijing 2008. The event was at night-time and I was riding the anchor leg. There’s always pressure, because it doesn’t matter what the other three riders have done, if you make faults as the anchor, that’s all anyone remembers.
As I was heading out, one of the other riders said to me: “You know what you’ve got to do, don’t you?” I said: “Yeah, I got a pretty good idea.” I knew exactly how to get into the zone. When I stepped into the ring, riding In Style, I picked up the gallop and I knew that he was going to give me his best.
Sebastian Coe (SC): I am really lucky. I have competed as an Olympian. I have written and broadcast about the Olympics. I have successfully bid for the Games. I have successfully delivered the Games. So it probably doesn’t get much better than that.
What is it that makes you most proud to be labelled an Olympian?
IM: It’s the concept of being chosen as one of the best at what you do within your country. I always feel that a good athlete is found in what they do on the field of play, and a really great athlete is defined by what they do off the field of play. When you represent your country, people get a feeling about you. They may not remember a result, or what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. I was so proud to represent Canada. I did my best to honour that in all ways. If you can do that, you’ve done your job as an Olympian.
SC: I think it is being a very small part of a huge sweep of a movement that has created some of the most extraordinary moments in the history of sport. And – I would say this, wouldn’t I? –the most iconic of those moments are track and field, so I tend to be very proud that it is track and field for me and the Olympics are obviously the ultimate stage.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Olympic values”?
IM: So much of what should be valued by society is valued by the Olympics. I believe in the saying that “the last 20 per cent of what you try to do requires 80 per cent of the effort.” Getting that last 20 per cent takes a huge effort, but when you look at Olympians, every one of them embraces that. They realise that becoming contenders is just the beginning. The Olympics embody the best of the human spirit.
SC: The Olympic values, properly articulated and properly delivered, quintessentially sum up the human condition.
Do you have any particularly special pieces of Olympic memorabilia and, if so, where do you keep them?
IM: In my office, I’ve got pictures of all the teams I’ve ridden on. I’ve ridden with over 50 other riders and I’ve always found it a heart-warming experience to ride on a team. So, I love those photos. The silver medal is nice, too!
SC: I am not a memorabilia person really. My mother actually pressed a flower that I was given on the rostrum in 1984 and she then framed it for me, and that is up in my gym. For me, that is more evocative than any still photograph or any medal. It was something that was thoughtful and creative from somebody that lived through my career and was incredibly supportive. My father was my coach, but she was the balancing influence in my life.
Did you enjoy life in the Olympic Village?
IM: Being in a room with three or four other people was like going back to summer camp. As showjumpers (though) we go on to a mature age, and it’s perhaps not quite our lifestyle any more. And the horses are often very far away from the Village, so at most Olympics, I got accommodation near where the horses were.