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A year after Olympics, Coe feels 'massive relief'

Friday - 7/19/2013, 4:35pm  ET

FILE - A Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011 photo from files showing Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, speaking during an interview in London with The Associated Press on London's bid to host the 2017 Athletic World Championships. A year ago, Sebastian Coe was engrossed in the final, frenzied preparations for the London Olympics. A myriad of worrying issues hung over the games: Would the transportation system hold up? Would the opening ceremony go off without a glitch? Would security plans keep the games safe? Would the weather cooperate? As the anniversary of the Olympics approaches, Coe is taking a much more laid-back approach. Looking tanned and relaxed after a summer break in Italy, he can now look back with a different perspective on the highly successful games that seemed to unite Britain in one big flag-waving party for two weeks. "Just massive relief," Coe said.(AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)

STEPHEN WILSON
AP Sports Writer

LONDON (AP) -- A year ago, Sebastian Coe was engrossed in the final, frenzied preparations for the London Olympics. A myriad of worrying issues hung over the games: Would the transportation system hold up? Would the opening ceremony go off without a glitch? Would security plans keep the games safe? Would the weather cooperate?

As the anniversary of the Olympics approaches, Coe is taking a much more laid-back approach. Looking tanned and relaxed, he can now look back with a different perspective on the highly successful games that seemed to unite Britain in one big flag-waving party for two weeks.

"Just massive relief," Coe said.

With a two-day international track and field meet -- dubbed the "Anniversary Games" -- taking place at the Olympic Stadium on July 26-27, the former middle-distance great will enjoy just being a spectator. It's a lot easier than being there as the high-profile head of the Olympic organizing committee, known as LOCOG.

"I can sit in a stadium watching track and field and not waiting for (LOCOG chief executive) Paul Deighton sitting next to me to hand me a BlackBerry with 'We pressed the wrong button and the flags are the wrong way around in Hampden Park and they've now been 40 minutes off the pitch," Coe said.

He was referring to the embarrassing mix-up at an Olympic women's football match in Glasgow, Scotland -- two days before the opening ceremony -- when organizers mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag on the stadium screen instead of North Korea's. The North Korean players refused to take the field for nearly an hour.

With that type of gaffe in the past, Coe said he can savor the good memories.

"The overwhelming sentiment is still, 'Thank god, we got through and we didn't let people down,'" he said. "What is it I would do differently? The honest answer is, 'I don't know, I really don't know.' I don't think there is anything we would do differently."

The track meet -- featuring the return of Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt and British gold medalists Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis -- will be the first competition at the stadium since the Olympics. Organizers hope the event will replicate some of the magic of a year ago.

"I hope it does take people back a few months to what London was like, how they were enjoying themselves, how their kids all wanted to join clubs," Coe said. "I think it's a massive moment."

With a year's distance, Coe views the whole experience through different eyes. As an organizer, he felt like a competitor preparing for the games, something he knows well from his days as a two-time Olympic champion in the 1,500 meters.

"You're so close to it," he said. "You're not cocooned, but you're in the boiler room all the time. Now, if you walk down the street with me, five paces behind, you'd be amazed at the conversations that still take place, with people talking about their time at the games, their experience at the games."

A big talking point in Britain remains the "legacy" factor -- in particular, whether the Olympics have spurred increased participation among Britons in sports and other physical activity. So far, according to various studies, the results are mixed, though Coe believes the situation has improved.

"I think we are a seismic distance down the road from where we were a year ago," he said. "The real challenge is to maintain that mindset."

Coe singled out Andy Murray's victory at Wimbledon -- the first British player to win the men's title in 77 years -- as a milestone and inspiration that should not be missed.

"We've got to capture those British moments," he said. "I just hope the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) and other organizations really know what Andy Murray did. We should never ever allow a major event to pass by without doing everything we can to convert that moment into more kids playing. That is a massive moment in the history of this country."

Coe was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron last year to head a commission overseeing all legacy issues. Coe says he's accomplished enough in one year and now it's time to turn the task over to someone else.

"It needed to be done in the first year," he said. "I shouldn't be sitting there in perpetuity. I'm not a one-man band."

Coe has a new Olympic job now as head of the British Olympic Association. He also remains a vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations and is a top contender to replace IAAF President Lamine Diack when he steps down in 2015.

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