Steve Ovett, GBR
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Steve Ovett was an outstandingly talented teenage athlete. In 1969 he failed by just one tenth of a second to equal the UK 13 year-old best for 400m. (53.6sec.). Six years later he was winning the National Junior cross country championship run over six miles! Between these two achievements he was setting UK age records at the age of 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 over his Olympic winning distance of 800m. During his teenage years he also won AAA's junior titles over 400m. (1971 and 1972).
Steve's first major title came in 1973 when he won the European junior 800m. in 1min. 47.53sec. pictured above No. 191 followed the next year in Rome with a silver in the senior event, where he set a European junior record of 1min. 45.8sec. when still only 18. His was a prodigious talent.
Ovett in 1973 - Thanks to www.sporting-heroes.net
In 1974 he also won his first AAA's title, the 800m. (1min. 46.9sec.). He retained that title in 1975 (1min. 46.1sec.) and won over the same distance in that year's European Cup Final in Nice (1min. 46.6sec.).
Before he reached the age of twenty he had run 47.5sec. for 400m, 1min. 45:75sec. for 800m, 3min: 39.5sec. for 1500m. and 3min. 57.0sec. for the mile (he had run a 4-minute mile at the age of seventeen).
Unlike most teenage sensations Steve did not fade once he reached adulthood and by twenty was running in the first of his three Olympic Games, at Montreal, Canada, in both the 800m. and the 1500m. He ran a personal best in the 1500m. heats (3min. 37.9sec) but failed to qualify for the final after finishing 6th in the semi-final (3min. 40.3sec.).
However, in the 800m. the event he was destined to win four years later, he saved his personal best time for the final (1min. 45.4sec.) where he finished a very creditable fifth behind the Cuban Alberto Juantoreno who won in a world record time of 1min. 43.5sec.
800m final - Thanks to www.sporting-heroes.net
The next year at the Crystal Palace, Steve finally broke a UK national record when he won the mile at the Debenham Games in 3min. 54.7sec. He also ran a 5000m. in 13min. 25sec. later that season at Gateshead beaten only by Miruts Yifter the Olympic champion and won the European Cup final 1500m. in Helsinki (3min. 44.9sec.).
1978 began with victory on a snow covered Inter-Counties Cross Country course at Derby (from marathon runner Steve Jones) and climaxed at the European championships. In spite of establishing a new UK record of 1min. 44.8sec. for the 800m. (beating Seb Coe's record by two tenths of a sec.) he failed to take the title, losing to Olaf Beyer (1min. 43.8sec.) of East Germany, Coe was third. The 1500m. however, was a triumph and he won with a new championship best of 3min. 35.6sec. from Irishman Eamonn Coghlan. Dave Moorcroft finished third in 3min.36.7sec. Steve finished the season by setting a new UK mile record of 3min. 52.8sec. in Oslo which he improved to 3min. 49.6sec. the following year the first ever sub 3min. 50sec. by a British athlete.
His form in Oslo and
throughout 1979 only served to wet everyone's appetite for the next year's
"showdown" with Sebastian Coe at the Moscow Olympics.
Steve Ovett arrived in Moscow as most people's favourite to take the 1500m. title. Earlier that month, in Oslo, he had established a new one-mile record of 3min. 48.8sec, and two weeks later equalled Sebastian Coe's World 1500m. record of 3min. 32.1sec. Furthermore, he had already experienced one Olympics, was the reigning European 1500m champion and was unbeaten over 1500m and one mile for three years. His tilt at the 800m would serve as a test for the "big one".
To say it went wrong would be harsh but Steve's victory in the 800m. was, to many people, a surprise. He and Coe both won their semi-finals with similar times, neither extending themselves physically in their pre-amble to the final. But thereupon the easy time ended and and the final was a robust, bumping and pushing affair. Steve's experience served him well as he battled his way round, never far from the front. Coe chose to linger back from the fray and paid the price - he let Steve get just too far ahead. The winning time was slow, 1min. 45.4sec. (the same as Steve did for 5th place four years earlier) with Seb clocking 1min. 45.9sec.
800m final at the Moscow Olympics - Thanks to www.sporting-heroes.net
Steve was now ready to do the "double", last accomplished by New Zealand's Peter Snell in 1964 at Tokyo. In another slow race however Steve just could not match Coe's "kick", or indeed the East German Jurgan Straub's doggedness on the finishing straight and had to settle for third place (3min. 39.0sec. to Coe's 3min. 38.4sec.). He was gracious in defeat, "He (Seb) was a worthy winner. I just couldn't lift myself after the 800m.". Steve went on to improve his World mile record but never gained a championship medal to compare with his Olympic 800m gold.
Fresh after his Olympic 800m. gold medal Steve Ovett set off again on his quest for more World records, he was rewarded with one within three weeks. In Koblenz, Germany, on August 27th. 1980, he lowered his (and Seb Coe's) World 1500m. time of 3min. 32.1sec. to 3min. 31.36sec.
Ovett did not defend his European 1500m title in 1982 (won by Steve Cram).
Ovett's 1500m World record stood for exactly three years until Sydney Maree shaved it down to 3min. 31.24sec. in Cologne. Not to be outdone Steve promptly got it back a week later in Reiti, Italy, running 3min. 30.77sec. on 4th Sept 1983. That was destined to be Steve's fastest ever 1500m.
The 1984 Olympic Games were a disaster. Suffering from bronchial problems he was fourth in his 800m. semi-final (1min. 44.81sec.) and a distant last in the final, the event he had won four years earlier. Worst still in the he failed to finish 1500m final .
1986 held mixed fortunes, in Edinburgh he won the Commonwealth 5000m title from Jack Buckner, in 13min. 24.11sec.
Commonwealth Games 1986 - Thanks to www.sporting-heroes.net
In the European Championships a couple of months later he once more dropped out of a major final (the 5000m), won by Buckner.
That year he ranked 3rd in the UK 1500m with 3min. 33.78sec behind Coe and Cram and third in the 5000m (13min. 20.06sec.) behind Buckner and Tim Hutchings.
He ran in the 1987 World Championships 5000m where he finished 10th (13min. 33.49sec.) but failed to make the 1988 Olympic team after finishing 4th in the AAA's Olympic trial 1500m in August with 3min. 47.45sec.
In 1989 Steve was ranked 44th in the World over 1500m with 3min 37.40sec his final season in major athletics.