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Q & A with Sebastian Coe

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(CNN) -- Sebastian Coe is one of the greatest middle-distance runners ever to step foot on to an athletics track. There are few people better qualified to comment on the talent and effort it takes to become a world beater. Here he gives CNN his views of Haile Gebrselassie.

Sebastian Coe won 1500 meter gold at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. He is currently chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee.

Sebastian Coe won 1500 meter gold at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. He is currently chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee.

CNN: What makes a good distance runner and how does Haile Gebrselassie match up?

Coe: The key attributes you're looking for is the synthesis of the mental strength and the physical dominance, and in both those areas Haile clearly scores very, very highly.

CNN: You talk about mental processes. What are the kind of things he needs to keep in mind, calculations?

Coe: Good running is the ability to have a very well defined on-board computer. The ability to judge distances when running in traffic. The ability to recognize that things happen quite quickly in races - being too far off the pace, not instantaneously responding to a break, recognizing whether that break may be a temporary surge and not define the nature of the race. And the ability to make those judges quite quickly - he has had that in abundance for large parts of his career. You don't win world records without understanding that. What he also has is great physical presence and the ability to conserve energy. It's an econony of effort and it is, above all, rhythm. His rhythm rarely alters. Even when I watch the race and know instinctively that he is under pressure, he is a consummate poker player. You really can't tell from his face, or from the set of his shoulders, or from the way he places his feet on ground, even though must be under pressure. I've rarely seen him show outward signs of stress.

CNN: You mentioned the way he places his feet on the ground -- his running technique. Can you explain what running on the balls of your feet means?

Coe: You hope all good athletes run on the balls of their feet. You don't want them coming down heel first. The perfect style is the foot to come down with a slight supination and on a tilt to the outside. You kiss the back of the heel on the ground and you move slightly, rotating inwards so the force and the central thrust is through the middle of the foot. Rarely do you see anybody at that level that doesn't have a good foot fall.

CNN: What about the hook of his arm?

Coe: Those things do happen, Scandinavians have often had arm actions due to early years in cross country skiing. Quirky things do happen. He does have what all good athletes have which is quite long length between the hip and the outside of the knee, in other words, the femur is longer than in mere mortals.

CNN: For a runner what is the difference between racing for a world record and an Olympic medal?

Coe: The Olympics are a world apart from racing for a record. You put out of your mind pretty much what anyone else doing in the race. You have pacemakers who take you to certain points. In Haile's world -- pace-making is more pronounced. Too much emphasis on pace-making does sometimes ruin the narrative of the race, as it makes races more predictable. People tend to remember great races. I will remember one of the five best races I've ever seen on the track was the 10,000m final in Sydney when Haile and Paul Tergat slugged it out toe to toe, stride for stride, down the finish. The winning margin for Haile over Paul Tergat was less than winning margin for the men's 100m. So this was a spectacular race. Frankly, I can't tell you what the time was, whether it was a record, but people remember great races much more then world records.

CNN: What are the memorable moments from the Atlanta Olympics in 1996?

Coe: That was a spectacular set of performances. We also know the track was very hard in Atlanta, hurt his legs and caused him a year of injuries afterwards. Winning the way he did in Atlanta and given the difficulty of the field and the relative hostility of the environment is one of his best performances. He will have his own view on which is the toughest -- probably the margin of victory in Sydney still causes him sleepless nights. From a personal of view, Sydney for me was his great moment.

CNN: Do you think Haile has a technique which vexes opponents -- tucking in right behind them and then overtaking in the last minute?

Coe: Of course, that is absolutely the right tactic when you have a range of physical skills that Haile does. I mean Haile is the greatest distance runner as far as I'm concerned - of all time - comparisons will be made with Emil Zatopek, Vlaimir Kuts, Paavo Nurmi, Ron Clarke from Australia, but Haile is the most talented of them all by a distance. What makes him talented is that he has the leg speed of a very good 1500m runner. He also has the great ability, as all great distance runners have, to destroy the field with a change of pace over five strides, and that is what he has done time and time again. He has struck like a cobra, got that gap and he has had the necessary physical and mental strength. That is what has made him different from anything that has gone before.

CNN: His mind set is just on the track?

Coe: Very difficult to answer because I see Haile and I know he can be perfectly nice man, very open, friendly and social but he also has the mentally, when it matters, of a killer! He is a charming person. He is very open, very rounded, he understands that what he does comes with quite a big responsibility. Not only in his own country that he has chosen to live in and work in, but also internationally. He is one of the biggest names in my sport in the last century, so he recognizes that responsibility and when it comes down to it he has to put all that aside. He is the consummate racing machine.

CNN: What do you think he means to Ethiopia?

Coe: He is the most visible, tangible evidence of somebody who has maintained humility. He is somebody who has understood that they have a responsibility to sport. It is almost impossible to explain how he is viewed in Ethiopia and as a vice president of the international track and field federation I am just delighted that his career is still going into areas that I think even his greatest fans thought unlikely 2-3 years ago. He is still a very visible force of all that is good in track and field.

CNN: Has he got more great performances in him?

Coe: He's actually come to marathons very late in life. His first attempt in London was his personal best - the fastest debut marathon ever. He came 3rd in the race and was clearly unhappy about it. He's worked hard to understand the distance but his performance in Berlin tells me that he has taken it again, as he did with 5 and 10,000m, into a new era. There obviously comes a point in his career where he decides that physically and mentally he does not want to carry on doing what he was doing, but I think he will be energized from his race in Berlin and from a very selfish point of view, I hope he goes on forever.

CNN: How much of a feat was it to break the world record in Berlin?

Coe: It was an extraordinary performance. As I said, he's worked hard at the distance. Marathons don't come to you overnight. It's a tough distance to understand mentally and physically he's clearly bottomed [world record] the distance. It wouldn't surprise me if he went on to do more. Most top marathon runners have four or five - Paula Radcliffe for example. By rights he should have more. But Haile knows there is a life outside of track and field.

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