Lord Coe claims he can deliver the 'most anticipated' event in memory as countdown to London Games hits landmark
With 100 days until the opening ceremony, the man indelibly linked with delivering the London 2012 Olympics will be fretting nervously, desperately hoping for the best while at the same time fearing the worst.
But once his beloved Chelsea's clash with Barcelona on Wednesday is out of the way, Lord Coe will go back to attempting to project an air of intense confidence in his team's ability to deliver the biggest sporting show on earth.
"One hundred days has got that ring of 'it's here'. It is a big moment," says Coe, chair of the London 2012 organising committee, Locog.
"The really important facet of all this is that it's 100 days before we welcome the world. Of course, there has been interest in other Games. But I don't think I've ever witnessed a level of excitement at this level in so many different countries for what we're doing."
In the face of a towering in-tray, from final preparations for the torch relay to the completion of the controversial ticket sales process and mounting fears of protests, Coe claims the London Olympics is the most anticipated since the modern Games began in 1896.
The double Olympic gold medallist and former Tory MP fishes out a spread of international newspaper cuttings, saying he has had an epiphany in recent months as he has travelled the world. He is just back from updating the Association of National Olympic Committees on final preparations in Moscow on Sunday.
"It's really occurred to me in the last few weeks. From Dar es Salaam to Marrakech, Los Angeles to Tokyo and Beijing – I don't think I've ever witnessed that level of excitement, particularly among the elite competitors," claims Coe from Locog's offices on the 23rd floor of a Canary Wharf tower overlooking the Olympic Park.
"It was a really good wake-up call. We are delivering for 200 countries and many of them have never been as excited about coming to an Olympic Games."
There are longstanding fears that the conditions to which host cities must sign up will stifle the atmosphere – from obsessive control of the Olympic brand to the huge security operation and the "Zil" lanes for transporting competitors, the media and VIPs around the capital.
But Coe promises that the party won't be dampened, even with the 35,000 security guards and police on duty inside and outside the venues and the array of military hardware including a warship on the river Thames and rocket launchers on Blackheath.
"I'm a proud Londoner. I want to show London at its best, the UK as well. I want London to be seen at ease with itself. That's the city I recognise. It's a relaxed city, a great place to be, a great place to celebrate, a great place to be educated," he says.
To that end, he is insistent that organisers will take a relatively relaxed attitude to protests that will inevitably accompany the torch relay, which starts its 70-day tour of the UK in Land's End on 19 May, and to the Games itself.
Protesters claiming that sponsors such as Rio Tinto, Dow and BP are using the Games to "greenwash" their image, and offshoots of the Occupy movement who may use the event as a backdrop to anti-capitalism protests, do not leave Coe unduly worried.
"I don't know if it's inevitable, but we should be realistic. We live in a democracy; we do have a long tradition of peaceful protest," he says.
"As long as that protest doesn't disrupt or become a public order issue or endanger the safety of our competitors or the public, I'm not going to sit here fulminating or becoming completely paranoid about it."
While he was "profoundly depressed" by the antics of the "completely self-indulgent" Trenton Oldfield, who secured blanket media coverage by successfully stopping the Boat Race, he said it was important not to get the threat out of proportion.
"From time to time, you will get people who will use whatever platform is available to them to get their message across. I'm not being cavalier or sanguine about it. It comes with the territory. That is the nature of the country we live in and, on balance, I'd rather live here than anywhere else."
With the 100-day countdown beginning on Wednesday, one of the biggest challenges facing organisers is a simple logistical one. The vision expounded by Coe in 2005 – of a "compact" Games that would not leave any white elephants and use temporary venues in famous central London locations – has left Locog with a big construction task in the final 100 days.
"We are absolutely on the right time lines. But the vision has loaded more work for an organising committee at the back end. We always recognised that, which is why we were keen to get out of the traps quickly," says Coe. "I'd have rather put more pressure on to deliver at the end of the project than be asked what I'm going to do with my permanent water polo venue after the Games."
The other pressing task for organisers is to get the country on board. Much will depend on the reaction to the final tranche of ticket sales. The final batch of 1.2m tickets, aside from 1.5m remaining football tickets, go on sale next month.
Coe accepts it is vital that the sale does not fall victim to the technical issues that dogged earlier sales rounds if public confidence is to be maintained. He insists that organisers are on target to keep a promise that two-thirds of the 1 million who missed out in the opening round of the ballot will get a ticket.
One lingering fear is that the crowds within the venues will be more SW19 (mostly white, middle class and middle aged) than E20 (the new postcode given to the Olympic Park in Stratford).
But Coe says the test events attracted a mixture of fans, and Olympics-linked cultural and community projects have had an encouraging response. "I do spend a lot of time travelling around the country," he says. "The story is there, I see it every day of the week. I was in Becontree and 1,000 new members had joined the leisure centre in January; the diving club 50 yards to the left had tripled its numbers since Beijing because they all want to be Tom Daley. I know it's happening out there.
"I go 10 minutes down the road to Hornchurch and I'm talking to a 16-year-old rock band who have written an Olympic anthem."
He says he has not come face-to-face with Olympic cynics who believe the whole thing is a waste of money in a time of austerity: "I come in on the tube, I'm on public transport. I've been an MP. Anyone who went through the 1992 to 1997 parliament – people were not slow in telling you what they thought. Overwhelmingly, in the cold conversations I have with people on the train, I don't for one minute think people will sit this dance out. I think it will be an extraordinary few weeks.
"I'm quintessentially British. It doesn't feel instinctively right to force-feed people into a funnel of excitement. I just don't think you can do that."
But he remains supremely confident that public excitement will begin to bubble around the torch relay and come to the boil with Danny Boyle's opening ceremony on 27 July.
Coe insists, too, that the most contentious aspect of the 2012 story – the legacy promises made to secure the Games in the first place – are on track to be delivered.
"There is a political consensus that a good sports policy is a good health policy is a good education policy. I don't think there's any question about that. I think we've shifted that dial a long way. It would be quite hard to turn that dial back," he says.
Others are altogether less sure whether momentum can be maintained once the circus has left town and political focus has dulled.
But, before he can look to the future, Coe invokes his experience as a competitor to illustrate the need to focus obsessively on the detail of 100 days that he accepts will make or break the Games.
"It's not at risk of unravelling. But there is not a single person, including me, that doesn't think we've got to do the best work of our lives. This is our time. There are no tomorrows here. We have got to nail this now."