20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 13 July 2005
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2008
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2008
Pat Butcher's book is a fine read - accurate, entertaining, informative, and including a generous helping of human drama. His assessments are fair and even-handed, something not always easy to achieve even after more than 20 years. His accounts of past achievements and rivalries, his revealing of the person behing the athlete, and the transition from (sh)amateurism to professionalism are excellent. I particularly like some of the little details which spoke to much (.... and Coleman said, "Ovett, those blue eyes, like chips of ice.")
In fact I might have given 5 stars but I found the journalistic dialect - the extensive use of stereotypes, the exaggerated black and white - was a little grating (only a real Ovett opponent would accept that for years he made Coe's athletic career a misery). Of course, it is hard to escape the reality that these were two exceptional athletes, and it certainly was the rivalry between them that captured the imagination of track enthusiasts and the general public alike. But the dominant theme of the book was "rivalry" rather than the athletic event itself. I would have preferred the book to bring out just is so special, so "perfect" about the mile (British or metric), because it IS a special distance, posing special challenges to the athlete and lending itself to the type of sporting confrontation that generates these special rivalries.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2007
This is a great read for anyone interested in athletics. Unsurprisingly it's mostly about Coe and Ovett and their intense battle for supreamacy but, riveting as that main plot is, Butcher intersperses sections on many of the other leading runners of the time, the change from amateurism to professionalism, the history of the mile.. etc which help flesh out the story.
The opening sentence captures the imagination and makes putting the book down difficult! I would have liked a bit more on the LA campaign which closes the book however.
I've read biographies by several olympic athletes and one thing they have in common is not conveying what it's actually like to be at the games. Something I would give my right arm for. Paula's is the most recent example, where there is little more detail than you would expect describing a trip to Sainsbury's. The Perfect Distance did go some way to capture the atmosphere and brought back vivid memories of watching Coe, Cram and Ovett competing at the time, on the edge of my seat, shouting at the tv.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2007
Although too young to vividly remember the full extent of their rivalry, I took up running as an 8 year-old after watching Coe's magnificent victory in LA, and have been at it ever since.
Butcher's masterly account captures all the magic of the two great runners, presenting them as multi-faceted personalities each driven to glory in his own unique way. He also skilfully presents the differences between them and the essence of this keenest of rivalries, while bringing out a warmth and mutual respect that has clearly developed over time and with the benefit of hindsight.
What sets the novel apart from the majority of sporting literature is the narrative skill and literary flair he uses to do justice to a great story and piece of history, and a first line that made the hairs stand up on my neck.
Unlike most sports books, which are purely of interest to the hardcore enthusiast, this is to be recommended for anyone with a passing interest in sport.
For track fans it is an absolute must-have.
on 16 September 2012
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'. Several times in the book it is mentioned that you were either a Coe fan or an Ovett fan - ...I was both. I loved Steve because he was a Brighton boy like me and went to my school's (Brighton, Hove & Sussex Grammar) arch rivals - Varndean GS. He was dedicated but flamboyant with a stunning talent. (I once was in a cross country race that Steve was in, I never saw him!)
I also admired Seb because he was so graceful, smaller than Steve but also embued with an explosive change of pace. The author is very fair to both athletes - Steve's troubles with the UK media and Seb's supposed domination by his father Peter. I was particularly enthralled by mentions of the places on the continent where each preferred to race.
The book mentions Steve's statue in Preston Park, Brighton where he trained - as is well known this was vandalised (cut off at the ankle by some scum) and now he has a statue on Brighton seafront instead. Well deserved indeed.
These were two wonderful British athletes at a golden time for middle-distance running - I still recall running, as a 23 year old student from Preston Pk station to catch the Moscow 800m final when Steve beat Seb (his banker) only for the tables to be turned in the 1500.
Postscript: this book has been pretty well proofread...I am qualified to make this statement as I have 'done' over 700 publications (inc. lots of sports autobiogs/biogs).
on 30 December 2012
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 taking turns in breaking their World records, just about every other week, and they didn't even race one another once during that year.
The book was written by a specialist athletics journalist and it shows, he knows what he is talking about. Other than their running, what fascinated me most were the colourful parents they both had. Seb's father and Ovett's mother were very extreme personalities, and you have to wonder whether the athletes would have been so driven without their parentage.
I give it a four instead of a 5 because, despite my praise of the author in the previous paragraph, I thought he could have made more of the drama throughout. At the pivotal races, he is workmanlike in his writing than mind blowing which the material deserved. But I nevertheless highly recommend this book.
on 8 April 2010
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 was, in all corners of the world. He then gives readers an insight into each of the protagonists' upbringings, family life and early days in the sport - all of which are completely relevant to the story. The parallels in their careers are as fascinating as the few races they actually competed against each other.
Brilliantly written and painstakingly researched the book contains comments and thoughts from commentators, friends, families, rivals and Coe and Ovett themselves.
Buy it and read it.
on 12 August 2012
Detailed chronological account of Coe and Ovett's background, rise to world class and their major races. Detailed account of highs and lows and good reference to their contemporaries such as Scott and Cram. He moved appropriately quickly through events giving enough fetail for intetest but not cumbersome. Very readable and authoritative book. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Makes you want to watch the videos all over again.
Andy Checketts , Worcestershire.
on 25 April 2010
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. Comparing the life of two kind of athletes was a great idea. You can read a lot about the background, the parents and many other things, which were different but the goal was the same: be an Olympics. I can suggest to buy and read it.