The Perfect Distance: Ovett and Coe – Pat Butcher

This is a story about a time when two men bestrode the world of middle distance running like two bestriding colossi; when everyone else thought that if they did their best they might be in sight of the British pair at the finish. It tells of the freakishly talented one (Ovett) who ran any distance over any terrain pretty much at any time and generally seemed to do it as well as anyone who had trained specifically for the event (he once entered a half marathon when he realised his normal running partner wouldn’t be able to do their usual long training run; he won it in 65 minutes). And it tells the story of the quiet one with the steeliest determination (Coe, obviously), who trained with ferocious discipline with the goal of winning the Olympics, which he did (twice).

And it tells some of the stories of their childhoods, and how they got to be where they were, and about some of their rivals. And of course, it tells all about the races they ran against each other (not that many; not enough, in the author’s opinion) especially at the Olympics in 1980 and 1984. Butcher was a journalist covering athletics at the time, and his depth of knowledge and feeling for the sport makes this a real treat.

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