Sebastian Coe, the swiftest middle-distance runner of British
track's golden era, may now be wearing wing tips, but it's no
easier to catch him today than it was 20 years ago. He's in his
fourth year as the private secretary (chief of staff) to
Conservative party leader William Hague, who will be the main
challenger to Labour prime minister Tony Blair in Britain's
general elections next spring. Coe's pursuers are lobbyists,
journalists and anyone else wanting a word with the most
powerful Tory. At party headquarters during a typically frenetic
Friday morning early this month, the 44-year-old Coe fielded
four calls in 15 minutes before dashing off, Hague in hand, for
an afternoon session at Parliament. "I make sure the leader's
day runs smoothly, efficiently," said Coe. "Running a campaign
is like running in general--it takes stamina and focus."
When the race was on the track, Coe was almost always the
people's choice. He outkicked countryman Steve Ovett to win the
gold medal in the 1,500 meters at the 1980 Olympics and
successfully defended his title at the '84 Games. Before retiring
from competitive running in '90, he had set eight world records.
In the summertime, when Parliament is on holiday, Coe is able to
pay greater attention to his role as president of the Amateur
Athletic Association, Great Britain's governing body for track
and field; his twice-monthly sports column for The Daily
Telegraph; and a substantial real estate portfolio. At the end of
his marathon workdays, Coe collapses at his home in the Guildford
countryside, where he lives with his wife, Nicola, a former
equestrian champion, and their lively brood--Madeleine, Harry,
Peter and Alice, who are all under age nine.
Coe, born in London and raised in Sheffield, represented Cornwall
as a Conservative member of the House of Commons from 1992 to '97
but never rose above the rank of government whip. While well
liked, Coe was swept out of office in '97 when a Labour landslide
ended 18 years of Tory-led governments. His current position
suits him well: After a long day of politicking, says former
cabinet minister Cecil Parkinson, "Seb is the chap with whom
[Hague] can sit down, kick off his shoes and have a whiskey late
at night to bounce ideas off."
Although there are few white spaces in his appointment book, Coe
packs a track suit with his briefcase each morning and tries to
escape for a one-hour jog through a park near his office. "That's
my time," says Coe. "I'll never give that up."