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28 Jul 1980
Moscow 1980

Ovett stuns compatriot Coe in 800m showdown

No confrontation at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow had the world’s press salivating quite like the contest between Britain’s middle distance greats Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe.

Two years of breaking world records and studiously avoiding each other at the world’s major track meetings meant something had to give when the two faced off over 800m and 1500m.

The two had been setting new landmarks seemingly at will, with Coe breaking three world records in the space of 41 days in 1979. In 1980, Ovett grabbed the world mile record off his great rival before he then equalled Coe’s mark for the 1500m in his final preparation race ahead of Moscow.

The press, and in particular Britain’s tabloids, could not get enough of the rivalry; their contrasting personalities and infrequent meetings turning the tension up and up as the heats of the 800m neared.

The draw did its bit to sustain the tension by keeping them apart in the heats and semi-finals until the stage was set in the final.

Coe was a supremely graceful runner, floating over the track as he put in devastating bursts over the final 200m and 400m.

Ovett was the master tactician, who skilfully nudged and cajoled fellow runners into the right place for him to make his own impact at the end of the race. The scene was set.

The 800m was Coe’s event; he was the hot favourite but ran one of the worst tactical races of his entire career.

At the bell, Ovett was third from last and Coe last, but a confident surge from Ovett saw him move through the field while Coe was forced wide round the main pack costing him valuable hundredths of seconds.

By the time they were 150m from the finish, Ovett was clear and Coe had too much to do. Ovett retained a three-yard lead down the home straight and victory was his, with Coe in second.

It was a devastating blow to Coe who later said: “I chose this day of all days to run the worst race of my life.”

However, memorable salvation was to come in the 1500m final just a few days later.

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