Commonwealth Games: Coe and Ovett tease out famous rivalry

Historically, getting Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett together has never been easy. The two great middle distance rivals of the late Seventies and early Eighties actually raced each other just seven times in 15 years - and one of those events was a schoolboy cross-country.

So it was something of a relief when both showed up as per the programme here yesterday - no collisions with church railings (Ovett), no untimely bouts of toxoplasmosis (Coe) - to reminisce for the first time about their glorious years of tit-for-tat before co-hosting a seminar for young Australian runners. Ovett, in particular, has been notoriously reluctant to discuss their rivalry down the years.

The venue was a restaurant alongside the Yarra River which bisects this city; the occasion was an £80 per head "executive breakfast" populated by awed businessmen and respectful former athletics luminaries including Cathy Freeman, Ron Clarke, Jonathan Edwards and Daley Thompson.

Coe, whose part in securing London the 2012 Olympics means he is as high profile now as he ever was in his running career, is little changed from the dark-haired, wiry figure who broke three different world records in the space of 41 days in 1979, although the gaunt cheekbones of his superfit days are gone.

Ovett - who has lived for several years in a plush house on the Gold Coast - is a balding and somewhat portly figure now, a partial legacy of being hit by a lorry while cycling near his former home in Scotland and being left unable to exercise.

Within the Ovett family the sporting torch has been passed to son Freddy, aged 11, who recently became Pan-Pacific junior champion at 800 metres. Coe's 12-year-old son Harry, meanwhile, is also showing signs of athletic prowess.

But while Coe and Ovett Jnr shape up for further rivalry, that between their fathers has softened into a playful, faintly affectionate relationship.

Ovett admits, however, that he felt obliged to alter his approach to the sport when Coe began his world record-breaking exploits in order to match him flourish for flourish.

"I was quite happy to win races up to that point," he said. "But then there was another bar we had to climb over, and Seb had set it up. If someone your own age and from your own country suddenly starts breaking world records, what do you do - sit back and let him have the action to himself? No. You try to get part of it.

"People wanted us to do it. And it was a pleasure anyway to try to do it. If you are really fit, if you are really on song, it's not that difficult." Coe, in turn, acknowledged that their insistence at the time that neither was affected by the other's exploits was hollow.

"I remember Christmas Morning before the 1980 Games," he said. "I'd run a 10 or 12-miler and then had my Christmas lunch, but I felt uneasy the whole afternoon. I suddenly realised what it was and thought: 'I bet that bastard is doing another training session'." At which point Ovett, grinning, added: "So you only did two training sessions?"

A screening of the 1980 800m final at the Moscow Olympics, where Ovett won the title most expected Coe to claim, soon provoked more wolfishness. Noting that Ovett was boxed in, the BBC commentator David Coleman speculated "What will he do? Try to barge his way through?" Seconds later the lean, mean figure did just that.

Ovett accepts that victory in the first race may have dulled his hunger for the subsequent 1500m.

"As a kid," he said, "I wanted to win an Olympics - end of story. Some people set goals, and I was that sort of guy. Other people like Seb go beyond those goals.

"There was tremendous pressure on us both, and when I crossed the line it was a wonderful relief that I had done what was expected of me. I ticked the box, and part of me must have been thinking, 'I've done enough. Let me go home.' But having said that, I gave the 1500m 100 per cent, no question."

As for Coe, the question was raised again - would he have retired if he had not returned to win the 1500m? "I don't know the answer to that," he responded. Thankfully for him, and athletics history, he never needed to know.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam