By the time of the 1980 Olympic Games, he was considered the favourite at 1,500m, while his British teammate, Sebastian Coe, was expected to win the 800m. The 800m final was run first. Ovett, in only sixth place at the halfway mark, pushed his way through the crowd to second place. Seventy metres from the finish, he shot into the lead and held off Coe to win by three metres. In the 1,500m, contested six days later, it was Coe who came from behind to win, while Ovett took home the bronze medal.
Ovett attempted to defend his 800m title in 1984. Battling bronchitis, he barely qualified for the final and then finished eighth, after which he collapsed and spent two nights in a hospital. He returned to compete in the 1,500m, in which he held the world record. Running in fourth place at the beginning of the last lap of the final, Ovett collapsed with chest pains and was taken away on a stretcher.