Time waits for no torch bearer in Lord Coe’s Olympic frenzy

It was the opinion of the late John Junor, beneath whose cold, watery eye pretension shrivelled and peeled aside, that Sebastian Coe was a “creepy sort of fellow”. Creepiness, in fact, is a surprisingly rare quality in public life. John Birt h

The athletes will all be sitting in the stands and a dangerous epidemic of speculation fever will be sweeping the globe. Let the games beginâ¦

It was the opinion of the late John Junor, beneath whose cold, watery eye pretension shrivelled and peeled aside, that Sebastian Coe was a “creepy sort of fellow”. Creepiness, in fact, is a surprisingly rare quality in public life. John Birt has it. Peter Mandelson has it in such abundance that the Competition Commission should investigate. David Cameron, as a former PR flunky, can’t help but have it. And yes, Sebastian Coe has it.

Lord Coe, as we must now call him while struggling to suppress a snigger, made his name in middle-distance running, arguably the most boring of all spectator sports. It is fitting, therefore, that in his current capacity as chairman of London 2012, he again bores for England. Even though this grisly event is still six years away, allowing those of a sensitive disposition ample time in which to plan their escape, Coe is already banging on about what he describes as “the greatest show on Earth”. In an article in The Daily Telegraph, he attempts to whip up excited anticipation about the London Olympics, which, given their inherent appeal, will be rather like watching an aged striptease artiste remove her teeth.

“London will be in the spotlight like never before,” he gushes. “It is a unique opportunity to showcase the city globally⦠We should not be complacent about the importance of attracting tourism, inward investment and goodwill.” He has a point. London is dirty, noisy, crowded, dangerous and, in much of the West End, tawdry. An influx of drug-pumped athletes, hangers-on and assorted riff-raff should feel right at home.

But wait. The games, by dint of their special magic, will touch the ancient city with stardust. “Transport, accommodation and sporting facilities will all be improved,” promises Coe. “Some very polluted land will be remedied. I hope this can be a model for the creation of other sustainable urban communities.” Though his running days are behind him, he remains a contender at the highest level in the Men’s Freestyle Cliché Race.

“Six years from today,” he writes, “I will be in the stadium with the International Olympic Committee president, fidgeting nervously in anticipation of the opening ceremony. Tens of thousands of officials, media members, spectators and competitors will have descended on London. The ten rail links into the Olympic Park will be up and running, transporting thousands and thousands of passengers into the area.” And if that doesn’t fill you with gloom and despondency, there is more. “Eighty thousand spectators will make their way to the venue. Audience participation kits will be placed on every seat. Volunteers and participants will join them. This is the chance for our finest creative talents to shine.”

Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t these seats going to be a bit crowded? I mean, there will be 80,000 spectators, who will barely have time to unwrap their participation kits (containing what? Stimulants to keep them awake during the women’s 1500m, sudoku books, instructions in Mexican waving?) and take their seats before being joined by volunteers. That’s already two to a seat, but we’re not finished yet. Instead of the vainglorious parade around the arena, the participants, too, will be up in the stands, sitting on top of the volunteers, beneath whom will be the spectators. No wonder Lord Coe will be fidgeting.

The finest creative talents will be needed to untangle the human knots created by this unusual innovation.

Meanwhile, promises Coe, “Someone very special will be our final torch bearer. Speculation as to who will reach fever pitch. The media will be primed and ready, and we must time things to perfection to ensure that 4 billion viewers are not disappointed.”

Picture the scene/ Up in the stands, they are three to a seat, a blurred, writhing confusion of arms and legs and participation packs; across the globe, in penthouse apartment and mud hut, in igloo and suburban semi, 4 billion viewers have one eye on the screen and the other on their clocks. They mutter in a thousand different tongues but the same question is on every lip: “Will things be timed to perfection? Or, if less than perfect, shall we weep bitter tears of disappointment?”

Hospitals across the world will be admitting patients suffering from post-speculation fever, their cerebral cortices severely overheated by visions of someone very special but they knew not whom. Some had speculated on Cherie Booth Blair, others on Graham Norton. A few clever dicks, recalling his earlier athletic prowess, had plumped for Jeffrey Archer. Who could it be? Oh, the agony of speculation! Nelson Mandela, Heather Mills McCartney, Kate Moss, Ken Livingstone, all these and more flickered, grinning hideously, in the febrile imagination of sufferers worldwide.

All this, and still six more years to go.

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