Coe vs Ovett - Race of the Titans

It was a date which most fans had pencilled in their diaries. The prospect of watching two of the greatest middle distance runners in a combat for the 800m gold, after a gap of almost two years, was exciting.

The two champions had given up competing against each other after their defeat at the hands of East German Olaf Beyer in the 1978 European championships.

July 26, 1980, Saturday, 7.25 p.m.

Besides Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, the line-up consisted of David Warren (another British runner), Nikolai Kirov (Soviet Union), Alberto Guimaraes (Brazil), Andreas Busse and Detlef Wegenknecht (both GDR) and Jose Marajo (France); the only major name missing was that of Beyer who had been knocked out in the semifinals.

The start was sluggish. The first lap was covered in a slow time of 54.3s. Gumimaraes was in the lead, Ovett was badly boxed in the sixth place with Coe, the world record holder and favourite, running last.

Midway through the final lap, Warren took over and in the back stretch, Kirov finally made a move to surge ahead. At this point Ovett, throwing so many elbows, finally got to the second place while Coe continued to waste time in the outside lane.

Finally, given the space to sprint, Ovett cruised ahead with 70m left for the finish. Though Coe made a valiant effort towards the end he could only finish three metres behind his archrival. Kirov, taken aback by Coe’s final burst, was placed third. Ovett’s time of 1:45.40 was the same clocked by the runner who had finished fifth in 1976 in Montreal.

Ovett did not even wait to pose for the customary photograph. And all that a disappointed Coe could mumble was: “I chose this day of all days to run the worst race of my life.”

A. Vinod