Peter Coe, a trained engineer, brought to coaching what he knew from his day job as production manager at a Sheffield cutlery factory: analysis, planning and a respect for schedules. He turned his son into a champion by training Seb as a sprinter, then gradually unleashing that sprinter's speed over longer and longer distances. Mastering the micro, then applying that mastery on a macro scale, is also how you turn a bid committee into an organizing one—how you go from 60 employees focused on landing a Games to nearly 4,000 tasked with staging them.
The elder Coe, who died just before the Beijing Olympics, liked to tell a story of an age-group mile that Seb, then barely into his teens, ran against older boys. His father told him to go out at a pace he could hold. "What will that get me?" the boy wanted to know.
"That's not for me. I'm running with the leaders."
For two laps Seb held his own before being dropped. He came up to his father afterward, apologetic. "No, it was good," Peter replied. "You've learned how fast you have to run for two laps. Now you've got to put together four."
On July 27 the pistol will fire in the form of an opening ceremony that draws on Shakespeare's The Tempest, the play about merriment on a magical isle that inspired Sebastian's parents to name him after one of its characters. At that moment Seb Coe will not hear the news on his car radio. He will not be on a boat off the coast of Sicily. He will not be wrestling a clown in a shop doorway. Thanks to eight years of work—and a lifetime of knife-sharpening struggles to match his successes—he will lead us into sports' great quadrennial festival. He will put together four.