Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It's the Head-to-Heads That Can Make Great Sport So Watchable; Ali and Frazier, Nadal and Federer, Now Root and Smith: We Can't Get Enough of Such Rivalries

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It's the Head-to-Heads That Can Make Great Sport So Watchable; Ali and Frazier, Nadal and Federer, Now Root and Smith: We Can't Get Enough of Such Rivalries

Article excerpt

Byline: Seb Coe

HERE'S something primeval and tribal about the Ashes, unquestionably one of the great sporting rivalries.

To Australia, it's akin to the football World Cup for Brazil or track and field to the Jamaicans; it's such a key part of what defines them as a nation.

I've lived in Australia, worked for their broadcasters and written for their newspapers, and I'm a fully paid-up fan of the Australian sporting spirit and mentality. As ever, it's in abundance going into tomorrow's second Test in Adelaide between the two sides.

But while it defines two nations with great rivalries over the years, it is the head-to-heads that raise themselves above the parapet and truly define the greatness of the Ashes.

There's a myriad of examples to pick from over the years: Mike Gatting and how he might deal with the spin threat of Shane Warne or, say, Geoffrey Boycott facing up to the fast bowling of Dennis Lillee.

You have it again in abundance in this series in each line-up, the rivalry between Joe Root and Steve Smith a case in point, the two captains and talismen with the bat. It's that sort of head-to-head that brings a human dimension to the Ashes.

This is what attracts people to the Ashes, or to other sports for that matter.

I met with some of the world's best athletes in Monaco recently and they asked quite simply "what can we do to help our sport?" My answer was pretty straightforward, "be more interesting".

Young people latch on to that human element of an athlete -- whatever the sport -- their stories and those of their closest rivals.

I know I did. When I close my eyes and think of boxing, in my mind it's Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier. For tennis, my mind goes back to a Europa Cup event where I was competing when all anyone wanted to know about and check every five seconds was the score in that epic Wimbledon final in between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

That resonates in the modern era of tennis, and I was lucky enough to be there on that epic afternoon in 2008 at Wimbledon when, with the light fading, two greats of the sport in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal slugged it out for the title.

Now that we're heading into December, it seems an apt time to cast my mind back to Christmas Day in 1979, just months away from the Olympic Games in Moscow. It was a winter of discontent back then both in political terms but also in terms of the weather, heavy snow having peppered my home city of Sheffield.

I had a 12/13-mile-run scheduled by my coach and the car that followed me could barely make it along the roads so high were the snow drifts.

It was a brutal onslaught of a run, painfully uphill for virtually the entire duration, ruthless and relentless. It should have been enough training for Christmas Day but, as I got home, to celebrate Christmas with the family and no doubt watch a 14th re-run of Dambusters, I had an uncomfortable feeling eating away at the pit of my stomach as the afternoon wore on. …

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