BEIJING – During his days as one of the world's biggest track stars, Sebastian Coe constantly looked to push the realms of reality.
In a rivalry with compatriot Steve Ovett that took chunks off the world 800- and 1,500-meter records, Coe would trick his own mind in order to conquer pain and push his body in search of greater achievements.
However, in his new role as chairman of the 2012 London Olympic Organizing Committee, Coe is in no mind to blindly chase the impossible.
The impossible, in this instance, is copying Beijing.
"I have been asked many times how we can live up to Beijing, which has been a phenomenally successful Games," Coe said. "That is not what we are trying to do. We will be trying to create our own unique Olympic experience, and we are confident of showing the world something very special indeed."
Any attempt by London to replicate the extraordinary exhibition staged by the Chinese capital would ultimately be doomed to abject failure.
The 2008 edition was the kind of Olympics that is only possible if you have the world's biggest collection of humanity at your obedient disposal.
Few other countries have the kind of political control needed to order factories to temporarily shut down to reduce smog, or forbid half of all car owners from taking to the road on any given day.
London will not shut down for the Olympics, but it will embrace the event. The backdrop, while a world removed from Beijing, will be spectacular nonetheless.
The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square were featured as part of the cycling road race and marathon, but London will rely even more on its icons to present a stunning backdrop.
Lord's, where cricket has been played for nearly 200 years, will host the archery competition. For tennis, Wimbledon offers a venue that is impossible to match. Cycling will be held through Regent's Park.
The Olympic bug will bite London, no doubt about it. Tickets will be snapped up eagerly and early.
An inherent obsession with soccer will not prevent the nation's fans from coming out in full force to see other sports. London's status as one of the world's biggest transport hubs and the growing flight industry means there may be more overseas visitors than for any previous Olympics.
They won't find it cheap, though. London accommodations, dining and taxis are all expensive, and may be prohibitively so for many.
Fans will travel from all parts of Britain, too. Much of the increased domestic interest will be spawned by the success of Great Britain in Beijing. A haul of 19 gold medals – behind only China, the United States and Russia – represents enormous improvement.
In Atlanta 12 years ago, there was just one gold, for rowers Steven (now Sir Steven) Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent.
"The platform created by athletes from Great Britain in Beijing has been fantastic," Coe said. "It has done a lot to excite the media and young people. We need to build on that over the next four years."
The organizers hope that the sporting regeneration that has taken place will be matched in the traditionally underdog area of east London, where the Olympic Park will be based.
But cost will be a big talking point. London Mayor Boris Johnson says he wants to bring an "intimate" Games to the city at under the projected cost of $18.6 billion.
One of the biggest challenges facing London is on its streets, where knife crime among teenagers has reached a record high. Claims of a "broken society" may be premature, but international Olympic chiefs will hope for greatly reduced crime ahead of the Games.
When hosting a major international event, it is always easier to follow a failure than a triumph. London, unlike Beijing, will not have the luxury of coming after a bust.
Early preparations for London have not been seamless, but they generally seem to be moving in the right direction.
Countless predictions will be made as to the likely success or failure of the London Olympics. Such attempts at foresight are invariably inaccurate.
Beijing surpassed all expectations with its enthusiasm and organization, and it put together a magnificent extravaganza. Can London do the same?
Only four years until we find out.
- Sebastian Coe