By 1980, the rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe at the pinnacle of world athletics dominated headlines in Britain and around the world. Ovett had captured the world mile record and equalled Coe’s 1500 metres record. His raw edge and power contrasting with the smooth, floating elegance of Coe, and they appealed to different sets of fans – of which there were legions. As the 1980 Moscow Olympics approached, 24-year-old Ovett was favourite for Olympic gold in the 1500 metres and Coe for the 800 metres. The 800 metres final came first. It was a robust, bumping and pushing contest made for a racer. That racer was Brighton-born Steve Ovett.
The triumph that day belonged to Ovett ... but he had to concede to Coe in the 1500 metres six days later as Coe smoothly and stunningly accelerated to gold, celebrating with relief and outstretched arms, with Ovett in third place. The following year, Ovett and Coe exchanged world records in the mile three times during a ten-day period. It was a magical period in British athletics.
In Brighton, a life-sized bronze statue of Steve Ovett was commissioned by the council from local artist, Peter Webster. It depicted Ovett in that final, bursting stride to glory in the 1980 Olympics. Erected in 1987 in Preston Park where Ovett frequently used to train in his home town, it was sadly stolen in 2007, sawn off from its plinth above Ovett’s right ankle. The 2012 London Olympics inspired a campaign for a replacement and, shortly before the start of the Games, a fine new sculpture of Brighton’s great athlete was erected by the seafront. The distance from the statue to the pier and back is 800 metres.