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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 5 February 2005
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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on 20 February 2005
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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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).
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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.
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on 6 September 2013
A very insightful look into the lives of the two greatest and much loved middle distance runners in the world. A must read for all Coe & Ovett fans regardless what side of the divide you cheered for. So many fond memories are brought to life again.
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on 26 August 2006
I thought this book depicted Ovett, Coe and the UK Golden era of athletics superbly. It gave me an insight into all of their races, results, their characters, careers and a full background of what I had witnessed on TV as a child. Fabulous!!!
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on 4 February 2005
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.
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on 6 December 2013
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. There are interesting insights into the rivalry between Coe and Ovett and other runners competing at the time but it's a struggle to read and I really wish I hadn't started it!
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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.
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