07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT
As a member of Britain's Olympic team in 1980, Sebastian Coe couldn't avoid politics. That was the year Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher supported President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the Moscow Games. But along with 221 other British athletes, Coe competed anyway, winning the 1,500 meters. Of the boycott, Coe says, "I thought it was a fruitless exercise." He won a second gold in the event in 1984 and set eight world records before failing to make the British Olympic team in 1988.
After retiring from competition in 1990, Coe kept running—as a politician—and within two years was elected a Conservative Member of Parliament from a section of Cornwall in southwest England. "I've been interested in politics from an early age," says Coe, now 39, who majored in economics and social history at Loughborough University. During the '80s, he served on the International Olympic Committee and several British athletics councils. "The politics of sport is every bit as tangled as party politics," Coe notes. "Maybe more so."
The same year he retired, Coe married Nicola McIrvine, a champion equestrian. "We were introduced at a supper party," he recalls. "I moved with my usual lightning swiftness and invited her out a year later." They have three children—Madeleine, 4, Harry, 1, and Peter, born last month. Coe won't be in Atlanta, in part perhaps because of another race he will run within the next year. "In politics," he told The Daily Telegraph, "there aren't so many people who want me to win. Before, I could count on most people's support. Now," he said of his multiparty kingdom, "it's fewer than half."