Barry Davies' Olympic Moments: Seb Coe v Steve Ovett

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Barry Davies on Coe v Ovett

In a 10-part series, BBC broadcaster Barry Davies recalls the most memorable Olympic moments of his 44 years on air from the Games.

If I'm allowed, I'm going to cheat here. I want to put two Olympic Games and two men together.

They are Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, and they had an extraordinary rivalry in the 800m and 1500m which lasted from the Olympic Games at Moscow in 1980 until the Games in Los Angeles four years later.

Steve Ovett

The British media had painted Coe as the good guy and Ovett as, shall we say, the not-so-good guy. The main reason for that, in my opinion, was that Ovett didn't rush to give interviews and Coe was more open.

Yet the characters that were painted were not absolutely right. Coe was the more driven, in my view; Ovett did his own thing to a great extent and I found out more about him between the two Games, when I was asked to interview him.

I said: "I'd love to do it. Have you got him?"

The reply: "No, but we're trying."

Steve Ovett eventually said yes and I spent the day with him in Brighton. I found a totally different and relaxed character. In a way, that attitude might have cost him doing the double in Moscow.

At the 1980 Olympics, Ovett struck first. He won the men's 800m final when Coe left himself with far too much to do.

I've interviewed Sebastian Coe many times and I actually asked him once: how on earth did you manage to lose the 800m in Moscow? He was a little taken aback but it was a big surprise. He could have won it from the front or the back, he was the fastest man in the field.

Coming into the Games, Coe had broken three world records in the space of 41 days - the 800m, the mile and the 1500m. Steve Ovett had pinched the mile record and had beaten Coe in the previous European Championships. But they didn't face each other, other than in major championships. They kept themselves apart or were kept apart, depending on who you talk to.

Unlike Ovett, Coe hadn't been to the Games in 1976. Ovett had, if you like, done a 'dummy run' when he was fifth in Montreal four years earlier. I think Coe felt that, had he been there and experienced the Olympic atmosphere - which is different to that at any other championship, and you don't appreciate that until you are there - things in the Moscow 800m might have been different.

In his own opinion, Coe believes that Moscow 800m race was a shambles, even though he won the silver behind Ovett.

But I don't think there was then quite the determination from the naturally relaxed Ovett in the 1500m later that same Games, whereas for Coe it was the other way around as he took gold.

What a comeback by Coe it was. We went from Coe's total dejection compared with Ovett's delight in the 800m, to Coe dramatically getting himself out of a personal "jail" in the 1500m, compared with Ovett who looked just a bit disappointed that he hadn't run his best and had to settle for bronze.

Moving on to 1984, Coe in the meantime had not been very well. In the preceding years he had had glandular fever and had been for an operation to remove some sort of gland problem.

This year's Olympic selection disputes are nothing new. Back then, there were people in the media who said that Coe did not deserve to go and that Peter Elliott should be at the Olympics in his place. Elliott was a very good runner, but I don't think he was ever quite as good as Sebastian Coe.

When we got to LA, suddenly it was Ovett who wasn't well. Yet Coe still could not get it right in the 800m. It is absolutely amazing that, in what I am sure he would say was his best event, Coe never won an Olympic gold medal.

This time he was beaten into second by the Brazilian Joaquim Cruz, a big, striding fellow. Ovett collapsed in the 800m with bronchitis - he probably shouldn't have run at all but he went to hospital and then came back to compete in the 1500m, which shows he was a very determined character.

Seb Coe

But he couldn't give his best and in the latter stages of the 1500m race he just walked off the track, he couldn't manage any more.

The moment I best remember is at the end of that race: as he wins the gold medal, you can see Coe making his view quite clear that not only had he come back again, he had proved the doubters wrong.

With that win, the future leader of the London Olympics became the first man to do the double in the 1500m. His was a huge performance.

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