Seb Coe: Cheptegei records a sign of great Games to come in Tokyo

Sebastian Coe says athletes are figuring out how to perform amid global pandemic, and praised the new Olympic Stadium

By Shintaro Kano

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe on Thursday (8 October) in Tokyo hailed Joshua Cheptegei's record-breaking performance in the 10,000 meters a night earlier, saying the feat laid proof that athletes are figuring out how to excel in a post-coronavirus world.

Coe said Cheptegei's 10k world record of 26 minutes, 11.02 seconds set in Valencia, Spain, along with Letesenbet Gidey's new mark in the women's 5,000m (14:06.05), point to an athletics competition of the highest level at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next summer.

"I woke up to the news that we had two world records broken and for Cheptegei, an Ugandan athlete, this has been a spectacular season", Coe said on Cheptegei rewriting by more than six seconds Kenenisa Bekele’s record that stood for 15 years.

"Because in our first Diamond League meeting back on our circuit in August the 14th in Monaco - with a crowd - he broke the 5,000m world record and next weekend in Gdynia, Poland, he will be competing in the world half marathon championships."

"This could be an exceptional year and what it tells me is that the athletes have weathered the pandemic months extremely well. I really thank them for that because they have been in extremely difficult circumstances, many of them limited to their own houses for many months."

"What they have done is, they have maintained a very high level of fitness, they have come out and performed very well. That will bode very, very well for the performances here next year.

"That’s why I’m so excited about the Games next year because athletics will be at the very top of its game when we come here".

Coe 'very impressed' with Tokyo stadium

The Briton was in town for his first inspection of a completed Olympic Stadium which athletics will call home during the 23 July-8 August, 2021, Games.

Two months ago, the stadium housed its first sporting event since COVID-19 overtook the world, the Seiko Golden Grand Prix - a one-day athletics event featuring Japan's top Olympians.

"I’m very, very impressed," Coe said of the venue, despite incessant rain brought on by a typhoon. "I was here a few years ago when this stadium looked very different.

"It was in the infancy of its construction but I’m absolutely delighted that I’ve been able to see firsthand the progress and we’re very excited about the prospect of athletics being here next year".

The chief organiser of London 2012 also paid a courtesy visit to Tokyo 2020 President Mori Yoshiro and Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko, during which he reiterated his full-fledged support for the Games.

World Athletics' competitions team took the opportunity to head north to Sapporo to assess the marathon loop course.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe is given a tour of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Thursday. (Photo by Tokyo 2020/Shugo Takemi)

The time is right

Coe maintained that he is not in Japan seeking guarantees of any kind from the host country but as the governing body of the sport wants to pass on working knowledge which will aid in the writing of a new Games playbook amid the pandemic - the "Tokyo Model", as the International Olympic Committee is calling it.

The Games' coronavirus countermeasures will be formulated in December following a series of three-way meetings involving Tokyo 2020 and the national and metropolitan governments.

"This is the right moment for us to be having that kind of input", said the former two-time Olympic champion.

"We’ve written the book on outbreak prevention and we’ve also written the book on athlete welfare in adverse weather conditions. It’s what our sport has to deal with.

"This isn’t about coming for any reassurances, it is to restate our commitment to work very closely with the organising committee to share our learnings that we have shared with our member federations and other stakeholders in our sport.

"There may have to be some adaptations, there may need to be some differences but I am absolutely convinced that even under those circumstances they will still be a fantastic Games".

And to the delight of Japanese fans, Coe added that he is determined to lure the world athletics championships back to Japan in the near future following the success in Tokyo in 1991 and Osaka 2007.

"We want athletics to have a permanent home in Japan. It’s a country that really does understand our sport and it would be a perfect solution for us to be able to bring the world championships back to this stadium as soon as we possibly can.

"Next year it’s going to be home of great athletics and to maintain the track and warmup facility will be a very, very important legacy for Japanese sport and an important legacy for World Athletics".