Jeff Benjamin wrote this fun piece on the re-enactment of the Great Court at Trinity College between Seb Coe and Steve Cram. We also have found the video of the race from 1988.
One would think that it’s ok if Sebastian Coe was a little biased at last March’s European Indoor Champs In Glasgow.
After all the Brits, led by the outstanding performances of Shelayna Oskan-Clarke, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Jamie Webb, Chris O’Hare and especially double-Gold Winner Lauren Muir finished the championships second in the team category, netting 12 medals (4 gold, 6 silver, 2 bronze).
With such a solid national team performance, the IAAF Chair was no doubt beyond thrilled, especially since Coe, a student of the Sport’s history, knows all about the legacy that these athletes represent for their country and continue to carry on, a legacy he himself embodies.
Such historical passion and fun played out for Coe back in late 1988, ironic in that it was not the greatest of times for the 1980 & 1984 1500 Olympic Champion, who also won silver in the 800 both in Moscow and Los Angeles.
A perfect storm of illnesses, missed peaks, British qualifying standard trials and athletic federation politics left Coe off the 1988 Seoul squad in both events, much to the shock and surprise of many.
So, when Coe, Steve Cram and Daley Thompson were approached to run at a charitable event to benefit the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children it certainly was a no-brainer for these legends and a fun ending to Coe’s tough year.
Adding into Coe’s passion for Athletics History was the opportunity to take part in a truly legendary (and debatable!) moment which has been immortalized in film!
The surprise Academy-Award winning film “Chariots of Fire” (1982) showcases a scene in which Harold Abrahams runs against Lord Lindsey along the Great Court before the Trinity College clock in Cambridge, attempting to run around the cobblestone circle before the stroke of 12. Without revealing the scene from the film there is definitely artistic licensing due to the belief that Abrahams either never attempted it or failed, and Lord Lindsey was a fictitious character molded after 1924 British Olympic 400 hurdles champion Lord Burghley, who history claims accomplished the feat. Still, it was a great scene in the film, and worthy enough of a grand re-enactment, which was organized by 36-year-old undergraduate Nigel McCrery at the time.
On race day, October 29th, with Thompson not participating, Cram showed up ready to race, as he donned his trademark singlet and shorts in which he ran his 3:46.30 world record mile 3 years earlier in Oslo.
Coe had other ideas.
“I went to a theatrical prop store in the West End of London,” Coe recalled as he truly looked to play the historical part. “They gave me some stuff used from that age. It might have been used in the movie for all I knew!”
Clad in a long sleeve black-striped button shirt along with wool shorts, Britain’s Mile stars took off before the crowd of a few hundred (including England’s Prince Edward!), who cheered wildly as Coe led from start to finish, navigating with Cram the 4 tight turns of the Square in their efforts to beat the clock.
Yet, just like in “Chariots of Fire”, the validity of that day’s performance is shrouded In debate as well. While the New York Times touted a successful effort by the duo, other sources stated that Coe and Cram might have started too early or finished too short.
In the end, this writer will leave it up to the reader to watch the video below and draw your own conclusions. But, at the end of the day, Coe summed it up in just the right spirit of the event.
“You know, the race was to raise funds for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children,” said Coe. “I believe we raised around Â£50,000 which was a huge amount.”
“Besides, it was fun!”
That’s what it’s all about!
Chariots of Fire race, Seb Coe vs. Steve Cram, 1988