The biggest sporting duel on the planet: Sebastian Coe vs Steve Ovett

With no Olympics this year, Mick O’Hare harks back to Moscow in 1980, to an event remembered by athletics fans around the world as the greatest clash ever of two middle-distance runners

Friday 05 June 2020 17:49
Sebastian Coe wins the 1500m final at the Moscow Olympics. Ovett took bronze
Sebastian Coe wins the 1500m final at the Moscow Olympics. Ovett took bronze

And here comes Coe. A dramatic move on the outside by Sebastian Coe… and Coe has won the major 800m title he wanted…” BBC commentator David Coleman was describing the British athlete’s victory in the European Championships in Stuttgart in 1986, a long six years after he was supposed to have won the Olympic 800m title in Moscow.

Back in 1980 Coe was the greatest 800m runner the planet had ever seen, and was the current world record holder at 1 minute 42.33 seconds. He set nine world records over his career including three in 42 days in the summer of 1979. And he was the overwhelming favourite to take gold in Moscow. But once there he would be facing another great British middle-distance runner, Steve Ovett, also a multiple record holder, who had equalled Coe’s 1500m world best only two weeks before. Ovett was the reigning European Champion and was favourite for the longer distance; he hadn’t been beaten over three years and 45 races.

Steve Ovett (279) pulls ahead of Sebastian Coe (254) to win at the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 (Getty)

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