The one face you won't see marking 100 days to Games
Their rivalry is the stuff of Olympic folklore but while Coe has been running London 2012, Ovett is keeping his distance
Sunday 15 April 2012
A major milestone will project London 2012 to the forefront of our consciousness this Wednesday as the countdown begins to the Opening Ceremony in 100 days.
The celebrations will include ceremonies from London's Horse Guards Parade to the beach at Weymouth via Kew Gardens, where Lord Coe will plant an oak tree to celebrate the UK's role in the birth of the modern Olympics. Almost every living athlete who has contributed to Britain's Olympic history will be wheeled out to join the parade.
However, one name has been curiously absent from the past and present Olympians who have been called up to assist in the promotion of London 2012. Steve Ovett, Seb Coe's great rival in their running days in the Seventies and Eighties, has not been part of the build-up to the Games – and not just because he lives in Australia.
Last October he was invited by London's organising committee Locog to fly from his home in Brisbane to join fellow Olympic gold medallists Carl Lewis, Nadia Comaneci and Rebecca Adlington for the launch promotion of the 2012 ticket sales. But it fell through apparently after a dispute over the terms of his appearance. Locog agreed to pay him £10,000 for a single day's work after a smaller offer was rejected, as well as business-class travel and accommodation.
The reply from Ovett's management company was that he would also require four tickets for his children for all nine days of the track and field competition in the Olympic Stadium, at which point Locog decided to withdraw the offer.
Ovett, 54, also declined to co-operate in a Hollywood-scripted film about his intense rivalry with Coe, saying: "I prefer to leave the past exactly where it is. After Chariots of Fire I think they would prefer everyone to still be wearing baggy shorts, and I can picture the intellectual, clean-cut, perfect smile Seb up against 'working class boy'. It kinda sucks."
He also said no to a request to appear with Coe earlier this year on a BBC radio programme about great sporting rivalries. Yet for the past 20 years Ovett has worked as a sought-after and forthright television commentator and is expected to be in London working for Australian TV.
There is hope that he will be among the torch-bearers as the Flame is carried towards the Olympic Stadium but there is no confirmation of this.
Coe is not alone in being puzzled by Ovett's's apparent diffidence. They were not exactly running mates and barely exchanged more than a few words when they were competing but they subsequently forged what Coe says is a "cordial" relationship.
They certainly seemed on friendly terms when they last met socially at last year's World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and had also appeared together to discuss their respective careers – and rivalry – at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.
Theirs was a rivalry as fiercely and unremittingly combative as that of Ali and Frazier, trading records almost as frequently as the legendary heavyweights had punches. Yet they actually raced infrequently, the most significant clashes being in the Olympic Games of 1980 and 1984.
They went head-to-head for the first time in the 800m and 1500m in Moscow. Ovett had set a new world mile record, had equalled Coe's 1500m world-record mark of 3min 32.1sec and had remained unbeaten over that distance for three years. Meanwhile Coe had run the fastest ever 800m, his signature event, the previous year in a time of 1min 42.3sec.
However, Coe was beaten to gold by Ovett in Moscow in what the former admitted was a tactical failure. Coe uttering a terse "well done" at the end and looked at his silver medal on the rostrum as if he would have liked to toss it into a rubbish bin.
By the time of the Los Angeles Games four years later, Coe had the ascendancy, becoming the first – and only – man to retain the 1500m title. And it was Coe who went to Ovett's aid when the defeated champion collapsed, with a virus, at the end of the 800m (in which Coe again took silver), ensuring Ovett received medical attention after he had been left alone in the tunnel in agony.
Always a prickly character as an athlete, whereas Coe was the media-friendly politician-in-the-making, it seems a shame if Ovett has decided to run away from London's showpiece.
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