JULY 30, 1979
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 Overt 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."