Tony Blair: Seb Coe is my Olympic hero – I’m really proud of how he’s handled the Games

Plus, the former Prime Minister discusses Jessica Ennis, "chillaxing" politicians and an embarrassing incident in the gents' at the IOC...

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What is your first memory of the Olympic Games?

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I remember Mexico City 1968, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed the black power salute. I would have been 15 at the time and on holiday in France. But it was such an amazing thing to have happened.

Who is your Olympic hero, and why?

I’m really proud of how Seb Coe has handled the Games. I did the Olympic bid with him at Singapore, obviously. The first Olympics I really switched on for was the 1980 Games in Moscow, when Seb won a gold.

Is it true you were shaking so many IOC delegates hands in Singapore you were even at it in the gents?

Er, well… there was a moment in Singapore, when I was standing at the gents and this guy – a blondhaired bloke – was standing next to me having a pee, so I struck up a conversation because I simply assumed that he would be British and would want to talk to me about the bid. So I started asking him how he enjoyed Singapore and whether he found it an exciting place to be, and he actually turned to me and asked, in a tone of voice that plainly meant that he hadn’t the faintest idea who I was, “Why are you asking me all of these questions?” And I suddenly realised that he thought I was trying to pick him up!

What sport would you have loved to win gold at?

The hurdles.

Do you still run?

Yes, I do. I actually take more exercise than at any point in my life since I was at school. I did it pretty regularly when I was Prime Minister, but more so now. It keeps you feeling a lot healthier and it’s great for mental focus, too. So I run and/or go to the gym about four to five times a week and I pay a lot of attention to my physical fitness. And as you get older, by the way, it becomes even more important. Between leaving school and the age of 40 I didn’t really do a great deal of exercise at all. I didn’t take up tennis until I was about 40.

Some politicians have been criticised for “chillaxing” on the tennis court at the weekends…

(Laughs) I can’t think who you mean! I’m totally in favour of people, especially people who are Prime Minister, taking time for playing sport. It’s very important. Physical fitness and stamina are now major components in politics, especially if you’re a leader of the country, because you’re working long hours, and it’s important to have time out.

What will make these Games feel British?

Apart from the weather?! I think it would be the idea of London as a melting pot of different races and faiths and nations and cultures.

Who is your tip for British gold?

Jessica Ennis. She’s got a pretty good chance. Ben Ainslie too. There’s a lot more to celebrate now than there used to be. They used to be few and far between!

Did you apply for tickets?

I didn’t actually apply for tickets, but obviously I have been invited to some events. But the rest of it I will watch on TV.

It’s the 4 x 100m relay, Team GB has dropped the baton, and only three teams are left running – France, the USA and Kazakhstan. Who are you cheering for?

(Laughs loudly) Now, I didn’t spend all my international life in diplomacy to answer a question like that! 

QUICKFIRE Q&A

1. Women’s boxing – good or bad?
We’ve got men’s boxing, so why not?

2. Weightlifting or taekwondo?
Taekwondo

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3. Brendan Foster or David Coleman?
I’ll say Brendan – otherwise he might belt me next time I see him.