Seb Coe en route to his WR 1000m, photo via newspaper, credit Bob Sly
3 Stages of Seb Coe’s 1000m WR
This is the third piece on the Seb Coe journey. Jeff Benjamin is both journalist and fan. You will find some amazing videos, photos and comments on this one. Brian Theriot is a true character: his comments are pretty funny, as is the response by Seb Coe. One wonders how much those years of competition prepared Seb for his job today, leading our sport.
The 40th Anniversary Of Sebastian Coe’s Record-Breaking 1981 Season! Third In A Series, Chapter 3 – “The Need For Speed, An Indiana Rookie & Cheeeeerio Theriot!”
By Jeff Benjamin
Many Track fans still marvel to this day at Sebastian Coe’s 1981 800 meter World Record of 1:41.73. Here’s the video:
This time Carlo Grippo was on hand as the 800 star was among the competitors in the field.
“Yes, I was in the 1981 race in Florence when Seb ran that amazing 1:41.73 and I gave up as I could not believe how far ahead he was after 500m!,” recalled Grippo.
For Coe, that June 10th performance (A World Record which lasted 16 years!) in Italy also came from a unique training background, for after the Brit’s 1:46.0 World Indoor 800 record (Please see Chapter 2) on February 11th, Coe didn’t race at all until May 3rd and competed in what may seem unconventional ways for a runner destined later in the season to own the World Records at the 1500 and the Mile.
“Training and racing 400 meters is a rare mix of characteristics and physicalities,” recalled the World Athletics Leader recently. As written in earlier chapters, “The Need For Speed” was a vital component in Coe’s training. “My Father (Coach Peter Coe) really felt it was important in my development.”
On May 3rd at the UAU Championships, Coe would WIN the 400 meters, clocking a time of 46.9 seconds, and then would dabble at the shorter distance over the next month.
Aside from competing in four victorious 800-meter races from May 17th (1:46.5 at the Yorkshire Championships), June 3rd (1:44.06 at the England Vs the USA Crystal Palace meet), June 10th (the World Record 1:41.73 in Florence), and July 5th (1:47.57 in Helsinki), Coe competed on two 4X400 relays for Britain, one of them at the June 3rd meet after competing at 800 meters!
“Those relays were always at the end of the competitions,” said Coe. “It kept my legs fast and was a great way to get into the season.”
One has to watch these 4×400 to truly be in awe of Coe’s raw speed!
Video of the England VS USA 4X400 after Coe already won the 800 that same night! Split – 45.7
“I did knock the baton accidentally out of Williams’ hand and I apologized afterward,” recalled Coe.
4 days later Coe anchored ANOTHER 4X400, this time at the England VS Scotland VS Italy meets at Gateshead. Split – 46.5
On July 7th in Stockholm, Coe experienced some bizarreness and possible chicanery, to say the least in his first serious attempt at 1500 meters that season. Aside from no splits being given out as Coe passed his 3 laps, the experienced pacesetter James Robinson astoundingly took Coe (but not the rest of the field who held back) through a 52-second first 400 and a 1:47 800! “Aaaargh!”, recalled Coe in his autobiography “Running My Life”.
“This is just going to be one tortuous evening.”
Indeed it was as Coe finished his last 300 in 46.63 to run a personal best time of 3:31.95, the same exact time to the hundredth his compatriot and rival Steve Ovett would run one night later in Milan.
Stockholm 1500 Video – You be the judge!
Ovett’s 3:31.95 1500 Video
Three nights later in Oslo Coe would go for another world record in the 800. However, meet director the late Sven Arne Hansen persuaded Coe to go for it in the 1000 meters instead.
Joining Coe would be Indiana Junior Jim Spivey in his first international season.
“I had run in Leningrad the night before and flew to Oslo with Willie Banks,” recalled Spivey, who would eventually run 3:49 for the mile a quite a few times during his career. “I was only 21!”
This time pacesetter James King set the pace with Coe quickly right behind him.
“When the gun went they were gone!,” said Spivey, as King, Coe, and Rob Harrison left the field.
“This was my hardest race,” said Coe, as King dropped out after 400 meters (49 seconds) and Harrison took Coe through the 600 bell lap (1:18). Coe was then on his own and accelerated through 800 in 1:44.56!
“I was a second faster than the open 800 race that night,” recalled Coe.
Coe was definitely feeling it over the last 100 meters. “With around 10 paces to go my legs stopped working.”
Finishing in agony, Coe set a new World Record time of 2 minutes, 12.18 seconds. Spivey finished a distant second. “But,” said Spivey looking back 40 years later, “My last 200 split was 27 flat, and Coe’s was 27.9 or 28.0 so take that Seb!”
Video of the Oslo 1000 Word Record
The following day, in need of a flight to the U.S. training camp in Helsinki, Hansen arranged for Spivey to ride to the airport with Stockholm meet director Heinz Luger, and none other than Seb and Peter Coe!
“It was my first time meeting them,” said Spivey. “Seb surprised me by asking how my Coach Sam Bell was and I had known that a year earlier Coach Bell visited and spent a few days at the Coe residence.”
“On the ride Luger asked Seb how he can get him back next year for Stockholm and Seb said, “I’ll come back only if you are calling out the splits!”
If there was truly one athlete who tried to throw Coe off of his mark both on and off the track it was American Brian Theriot.
“As a Yank, I am honored to remember my fine times in Europe’s world-class track circuit against the world’s greatest ever combo 800/1500 athlete in Sebastian Coe, to this day the GOAT…greatest of all time!”, recalled the unconventionally enthusiastic UCLA star.
“I toured Europe ten years under the management of the wonderful world athletics management leader Andy Norman of BAAB…. Andy always made sure I was in the finest of racing.”
“Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe changed the sport forever will NEVER be matched again. The 1981 season is of fond memory as I had dropped from 1:48 to 1:45 in the 800 and from 3:39 to 3:36 1500.”
“Coe was always on my mind as I researched his training, hills running, short recovery, speed, and even his chasing Dad’s car down dirt cinder roads in far off British soils,” said Theriot, who recalls 2 races against Coe from 1980 & 1981.
“I knew we would face each other in Viareggio Italy in 1980,” said Theriot.
“Enrico Dionisi flew me down to Viareggio two days before… Alas, I was also to face the Italian Romantic Champion Carlo Grippo and “Oh My!” fine food but my mind was focused to get Coe.”
It seemed Theriot would stop at nothing!
“Before the race, the night before I hired a few Italian kids to kick their soccer balls in front of Coe and his Dad’s hotel room all night, hopefully, to disrupt sleep- an Old Yank trick,” said Theriot hoping this out of the box strategy would work in his favor.
Theriot then described some of the other antics at the meet.
“The meet night was full of wine in the stands with lovely Italian lassies chanting and swaying in the night “Carlo, Carlo, Carlo” as Grippo readied for the 800 and No kidding bras and panties tossed in his lane!”
“Seb as always on his own and warmed up in a locale I could never figure,” recalled Theriot. “We toed the line for the 800, boom, I felt great and on the backstretch went by Grippo at 550 meters thinking, “this is it, baby! I broke from Seb.”
It was a short-lived feeling for Theriot.
“Alas, at 650 meters Seb shoulders me, looks at me, and he was gone – Silver for Theriot again…The soccer balls did not stop this legend of a man.”
“After the race Seb came up to me not kidding and said, “nice night last night Terriooooooo!”
“Someone had ratted me out on the soccer balls at his room,” said Theriot.
“Seb laughed and said “see you in a week or two”….”good on you …you have come a long way”.
One year later Theriot would be competing against an even more primed Coe.
“The 1981 AAA Semis 800 at my stomping ground I loved Crystal Palace and oh my, the Queens Hotel nights with fawning Brit lassies,” said Theriot who had challenges of his own that night.
“Big Daddy” Andy Norman had changed the 800 semi times and I was not told,” said Theriot. “I had no warm-up so my warm-up was a sprint from Queens Hotel to Crystal Palace.”
Theriot soon encountered a loaded field.
“I did not know Coe was in my Semi,” said Theriot. “A nice world-class field and I knew there was hell to pay but the key was to stay on Coe’s shoulder and try to surprise him.”
But there would be no surprise.
Video to the race
“Alas, the classic Coe final 100 meters served me up,” said Theriot in his unique literary style.
“Coe shook my hand and said “good to see you again Terriooooooo”…He was a fine gent.”
“Those years against Seb Coe and the British empire of great middle-distance runners IS my finest set of memories,” said Theriot.
Which begs the question – Did Theriot try these unorthodox strategies against other opponents?
“Oh, there’s a lot more we did over ten years but not to Coe,” said Theriot.
“On the 4th of July we smoke bombed the Cuban team bus in Italy!”
That will be a story for another time!
Stay tuned for Chapter 4 – The Magical Mile Races!
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