MOSCOW 2013 - 7, LOOKING BACK: MOSCOW AND THE 1980 OLYMPICS, 7. The Classic: "Coe vs. Ovett" -- Part One, 800 Meters by James Dunaway

James Dunaway retells the story of a masterful race, the 800 meter for men in 1980 Moscow....


Moscow 1980, courtesy of Australian Olympic committee
MOSCOW 2013 - 7

Once we had counted the missing nations as the athletes marched in during the Opening Ceremony, the American-led boycott was forgotten. We still could look forward to two of the greatest middle distance runners of the 20th century: Britons Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, at 800 and 1,500 meters.
Coe held the world records at 800 (1:42.4) and 1,000 meters (2:13.40), and Ovett the mile (3:48.8). They shared the 1,500-meter WR at 3:32.1. Oddly, they had raced each other only once before, as Ovett finished second and Coe third behind German Olaf Beyer in a very quick 1:43.84 in the 1978 European Championships. Expert opinion (i.e., sports writers' guesses) gave the speedier Coe a slight edge at 800, and made the sturdier Ovett the pick over 1,500.
Anticipation was heightened when each won his heat and semifinal handily. You really couldn't imagine anyone else winning either gold medal.
The final started as if no-one was in a hurry, and they ran in a tight bunch. Brazilian Agberto Guimares, a Brigham Young freshman, led at 400 meters in 54.3, with Ovett on the rail in fifth in 54.6 and Coe last in 54.7 going into the second lap.
Accelerating off the turn with 300 meters to go, Soviet Nikolay Kirov quickly opened up daylight on the field, and Ovett elbowed his way into second. Coe running wide (almost in lane 3) made a tentative move and then seemed to abandon it. He didn't lose ground on the leaders, but he didn't gain it either.
Kirov and Ovett flew round the final turn, while behind them Coe finally came to life with 150 meters to go and started sprinting madly. Ovett showed his superior kick, overtaking Kirov 80 meters out and winning in a tepid-but-convincing 1:45.4. Four meters backi, Coe passed Kirov for the silver in the final steps, 1:45.9 to 1:46.0.
The deeply disappointed Coe told T&FN's Tom Jordan,, "I suppose I must have compounded  more cardinal sins of middle distance racing in one-and-one-half minutes than I've done in a lifetime. What a race to choose."
Fortunately for him, he had a chance for redemption a few days later.

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