Jessica Ennis-Hill, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Morgan Lake can launch an “extraordinary period” to revitalise British athletics, according to Sebastian Coe.
Coe’s rivalry with Steve Ovett lit up middle-distance running in the 80s, and the double Olympic gold winner believes Britain’s current crop of top-class heptathletes can have a similar effect.
Johnson-Thompson narrowly missed out on a world record score in claiming the European Indoor Championships pentathlon title earlier this month.
Sheffield’s reigning Olympic champion Ennis-Hill is still intent on defending her heptathlon title at Rio 2016 after her break to start a family, and will face a stern challenge from 22-year-old Johnson-Thompson. And with teenage sensation Lake finishing ninth in the Prague indoors, Coe has high hopes the three Brits can convert a new breed of youngsters into athletics aficionados.
“Head-to-heads are what get people up aren’t they?” said Coe.
“My kids were getting up at 3am at the weekend to watch Hamilton and Rosberg in F1. Head-to-heads excite people. And the more opportunities we have for athletes going head-to-head the better.
“It’s not even just Jess and Katarina either: you’ve got Morgan coming through who I’m sure will be equally good; it’s an extraordinary period to be entering.”
Coe, an old boy from Tapton Secondary Modern School, Crosspool, is running against Ukrainian pole vault icon Sergey Bubka for the presidency of the IAAF. He believes athletics must modernise to remain relevant to young people. And he thinks believes Britain’s three heptathletes are the key to convincing youngsters to give athletics a chance. “They are from normal backgrounds. They don’t come out of super-schools or state-sponsored programmes, they are your kids next door and that’s really important,” said Coe. “That is the challenge, but I don’t think you need to be too gender specific there because there were plenty of young boys I know who took up middle distance off the back of what Kelly Holmes was doing in Athens, and Paul Radcliffe.
“We’re pretty inclusive when it comes to our sport and how it gets absorbed in communities across the country. We’ve got to be more creative about the way we deliver the sport, being more creative about how we excite people into it.”