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The Perfect Distance: Ovett and Coe: The Record Breaking Rivalry [Hardcover]

Pat Butcher
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
RRP: £14.99
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Book Description

22 July 2004

Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe presided over the golden era of British athletics. Between them they won three Olympic gold medals, two silvers, one bronze, and broke a total of twelve middle-distance records. They were part of the landscape of the late seventies and early eighties -- both household names, their exploits were watched by millions (in an age before video, satellite and Sky Sports, the BBC Nine O'Clock News was often interrupted to accommodate their successes). As far apart as possible in terms of class and upbringing -- Ovett is the art student, the long-haired son of a market-trader from Brighton, a natural athlete; Coe's formative years were spent under the rigorous training routine of Peter Coe, a self-taught trainer who referred to his son as 'my athlete' -- their rivalry burned as intense on the track as away from it. The pendulum swung between the pair of them -- each breaking the other's records, and, memorably, triumphing in each other's events in Moscow in 1980 -- for the best part of a decade, until the final showdown at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 . . .

Twenty years on, Pat Butcher, a runner himself and athletics correspondent of The Times in the eighties, has spoken at length to both athletes; to Coe, the Tory MP, and to Ovett, whom he tracked down in Australia. He writes in depth about the British obsession with and dominance of middle-distance running, the mile, and speaks to many of the great 'milers' down the years, the likes of the Swedes Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson, John Walker and, of course, Roger Bannister. The Perfect Distance is both a detailed re-creation and a fitting celebration of the greatest era of British athletics.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (22 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297847457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297847458
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 14.4 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 591,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Meticulously written. (OBSERVER)

Butcher relives a Golden Age. (SUNDAY TIMES)

There are precious few good books on athletics but this study of the intertwined careers of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett is an exception. Drawing on a wide range of interviews and original research, the author brilliantly recaptures the dramatic tension of the battles between these two giants of the track...In addition to analysing the qualities of talent, ambition and ruthless determination that made them so special, Pat Butcher is excellent on the contrasts in their personalities. (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

A beautifully researched account. (Mike Rowbottom INDEPENDENT (14.12.04))

an inspiring read. (RUNNER'S WORLD (1.11.04))

Few athletes have captured the world's attention as did Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in the early 1980s... it was their fierce rivalry, more redolent of prefessional boxing that middle-glass running, that transformed their clashes at the Olympics into unmissable events. A runner himself, Pat Butcher has chronicled the way these two swift men spurred each other to glory and redefined their sport in the process, though ultimately for worse rather than better. (THE ECONOMIST (31.7.04))

Butcher has written a perceptive book. (BLACKPOOL GAZETTE)

this book is a must for the coach and athlete interested in the minds of great milers...Butcher's description of the heats and semi finals in LA is painstakingly accurate and dramatic. (Frank Horwill ATHLETICS WEEKLY (4.8.04))

outstanding. (IRISH TIMES)

Well-told account of the days when Seb Coe and Steve Ovett ruled the world by someone who was there. (GUARDIAN (18.12.04))

gripping (IRISH INDEPENDENT (15.12.04))

Book Description

The fully authorised, inside story of Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe's intense rivalry on the track, which climaxed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping and enlightening read 13 July 2005
Format:Paperback
As somebody who was inspired as an eight year old watching the Moscow Olympics to take up athletics, I bought this book with not a little excitement. I read it in a single sitting.
As a predominantly Ovett fan, it was great to read in detail about Coe and Ovett's early careers as well as the drama surrounding the rivalry of the pair.
I remember vividly the tv coverage in 1984 from the Los Angeles Olympics when Steve Ovett was having his breathing difficulties. What I didn't know until I read this book was quite what was wrong, or how incredible it was that he still managed to make it into two Olympic finals. Nor did I know that it was none other than his great rival that made sure he received medical attention and waited around afterwards. Nuggets from interviews and touching anecdotes like this make this book the great read that it is.
The only thing that could have made this book any better would perhaps have been a final chapter on what Coe and Ovett have been up to since they retired.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this one will run and run 5 Feb 2005
Format:Hardcover
This has got be one of the best books ever written on athletics. And given the subject matter, the rivalry between two such different characters as Seb Coe and Steve Ovett, the book strays well beyond its sporting context. As the author points out, it was a touchstone for a formative era in Britain, Coe representing the Thatcherite strand in politics, and Ovett harking back to the good old labour days, which were about to disappear forever.
Books on sport have developed enormously over the last few years, since Nick Hornby's appraisal of the cultural significance of fandom, whether Cambridge Utd or Arsenal, and Butcher's book contributes to an update of a genre that has never really been given much serious treatment beyond relatively shallow biography.
As a journalistic enterprise, it succeeds admirably, both principals were obviously interviewed in depth, as were all their rivals, domestic and international, from the guy who beat them both as schoolkids, to Steve Cram and Peter Elliott, to John Walker, Eamonn Coghlan, Steve Scott and Thomas Wessinghage.
But where Butcher scores is he does not take the quotes at face value, rather he evaluates them, puts them into context, and gives his own, often ascerbic view. He also puts it all into an historical perspective, with lots of trenchant (and amusing) opinion. This is exactly what biography should be. It would be an insult to call this a sports book or a book on sport. It's far more than that.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book on Athletics 20 Feb 2005
Format:Hardcover
Pat Butcher's finely researched book on Coe and Ovett is simply the best athletics book I've ever read. His sparkling prose style combined with in-depth research makes it a far cry from the usual hackwork of the average journalist. It fair zips along and takes you with it and even the non-aficionado will be caught up in the lives, the successes and the defeats of these two great runners. The books works through the years when Britain's runners led the world, and everyone knew their names. A thrilling time and a thrilling read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This one will run and run 4 Feb 2005
Format:Hardcover
This has got to be one of the best books ever written on athletics. And given the subject matter, the rivalry between two such different characters as Seb Coe and Steve Ovett, the book strays well beyond its sporting context. As the author points out, it was a touchstone for a formative era in Britain, Coe representing the Thatcherite strand in politics, and Ovett harking back to the good old labour days, which were about to disappear forever.
Books on sport have developed enormously over the last few years, since Nick Hornby's appraisal of the cultural significance of fandom, whether Cambridge Utd or Arsenal, and Butcher's book contributes to an update of a genre that has never really been given much serious treatment beyond shallow biography.
As a journalistic enterprise, it succeeds admirably, both principals were abviously interview in depth, as were all their rivals, domestic and international, from Steve Cram and Peter Elliott to John Walker, Eamonn Coghlan, Steve Scott and Thomas Wessinghage.
But where Butcher scores, he does not take the quotes at face value, rather he evaluates them, puts them into context, and gives his own often ascerbic view. He also puts it all into an historical perspective, with lots trenchant (and amusing) opinion. This is exactly what biography should be. It would be an insult to call this a sports book, or a book on sport, it's far more than that.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling read 6 Sep 2008
Format:Paperback
Bought this book on holiday to Greece and couldn't put it down. The book provided insights into these two great characters that were otherwise not public knowledge, e.g. Ovett's dominant mother, Andy Norman's views on Cliff Temple, Ovett's change of views from racing to record-breaking, Coe's aid to Ovett after Ovett had collapsed in the LA Olympics. This book was much more than an account of the Coe v Ovett saga, it was a history lesson, documentary, mini-biographies, and fast-paced thriller all rolled into one. The chapter on the historical mile rivalries of Walter George v Willie Cummings and Arne Anderssen v Gunter Hagg is superb. I cannot speak highly enough of this book. The phrase "unputdownable" is not lost on Pat Butcher's excellent work.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Stodgy Read
Any book about athletics runs the risk of becoming a list of races and times; a risk which this book does not really manage to avoid. Read more
Published 9 months ago by jabt
4.0 out of 5 stars V Good
A very insightful look into the lives of the two greatest and much loved middle distance runners in the world. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mark
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into these two greats beginnings, their achievements and...
Really enjoyed this read. Fascinated how these athletes started, their achievements, failures, what lead up to the 1980 and 1984 Olympic games. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mr Steven J Clark
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Story
A story that is actually more amazing than I remembered though I followed it at the time. The season after their Moscow Olympics, 1981, was the biggest eye-opener: these guys were... Read more
Published 20 months ago by J. Philip Magnier
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Coe or Ovett...both!
This is a very enlightening and informative book about Messrs Coe and Ovett. I do think the protagonists themselves do continue to have a laugh about this 'rivalry'. Read more
Published on 16 Sep 2012 by Jonathon M. PRICE
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining read that keeps up the pace!
Detailed chronological account of Coe and Ovett's background, rise to world class and their major races. Read more
Published on 12 Aug 2012 by Andy Checketts
4.0 out of 5 stars Books about athletics
I bought this book for a friend of mine who is also a running coach, he liked it very much.
Published on 2 Oct 2010 by R. Shaw
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect narrator
This is my second book which I read about the British athletes. I have not finished the book yet, but the style of the book is amazing. Read more
Published on 25 April 2010 by Bardos Robert
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece
The Perfect Distance is quite simply the most absorbing and well written sports book I have read. Pat Butcher whets the appetite by reminding us all of how massive this rivaly... Read more
Published on 8 April 2010 by David Durham
5.0 out of 5 stars A Shallow Review
From previous experience, if I don't review within a certain time frame, I lose the opportunity....so I need to say I haven't read it yet. Read more
Published on 4 Aug 2009 by Just a guy
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