In the second part of the series of the world’s greatest runners, Capt Seshadri talks about the marathon greats – Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovet, known for their incredible performance and speed.
We have two more runners for your this week. They have set the tracks on fire with their dedication, performance and running style.
Trinity College, Cambridge, has a clock within the Great Court, that takes 43.6 seconds to strike the 12 chimes of noon or midnight. The 1981 movie Chariots of Fire features a scene in which the runners attempt to run around the perimeter of the Court, a distance of 367 metres, within this time.
Sebastian Newbold Coe, now Baron Coe, CH KBE,was once credited with having achieved this stupendous feat in 42.3 seconds, only two other runners having succeeded in doing so in years as far apart as 1927 and 2007. Unfortunately, even with sufficient time left, a video recording indicated that he was 12 metres short of the finish, and his name does not feature in the record books.
Lord Coe is a living legend. Now a British politician and the convener of the London Olympics, this former middle distance runner was born on September 29, 1956. Coe came into the athletics limelight in 1977, winning but barely missing out on the world record in the 800 metres European Indoor Championships in San Sebastian. In 1979, he set three world records within a space of 41 days, in the 800 metres, the metric mile and the 1500 metres and followed it with four Olympic medals in 1980 and 1984.
Seb Coe had a training schedule that was peculiar; successful for him and criticised by some as a ‘complete waste of resources’, while attributing his successes to ‘genetic ability’. His workouts included a huge amount of gym work with weights, concentrating on the lower body, back and shoulders, and systematic core building. Even in the early days, he believed in ‘circuit training’ with high reps and short recoveries. He was a staunch advocate of Pylometrics – the transfer of strength to power that was specific to running.
During the cold months, Coe would run at a moderate pace of 5 km, sprint uphill with long gaps of recovery and compete with sprinters to preserve the element of speed.He developed a reputation of pushing hard during the later stages of long runs, sometimes doing 16 km in ¾ of an hour.
Although there is not much information on his eating habits, his seemingly erratic methods of training provoked his detractors to observe that if his diet was like his training, he was probably drinking lots of soda and eating peanut butter sandwiches.
His rivalry on the track with Steve Ovett is the stuff of legends. Interestingly or rather, sadly, Seb Coe is colour blind.
The runner with the kick
Stephen Michael James ‘Steve’ Ovett, OBE, was born in Brighton, England on October 9, 1955. A champion middle distance runner, he won Olympic gold in Moscow in 1980, while also setting world records in the 1500 metres and the metric mile. In the mid 70s, the 1500 metres champion was a runner named John Walker; but in 1977, Steve Ovett shot to prominence with his regular wins over Walker. A great finisher, in the European Cup 1500 metres, he produced an unbelievable last lap of 52.4 seconds to pip his competitor to the post.
As a teenager, Steve was noticed for his prowess as a footballer, but reportedly gave up the sport, not wanting to indulge in a game where he would have to rely on his team mates. The ‘kick’ of football seemed however, to be part of his genes for, in the inaugural IAAF Athletics World Cup, with 200 metres left for the finish, he produced a tremendous ‘kick’, taking the last turn in 11.8 seconds and completing the final 200 metres in 25.1, leaving the rest of the field, led by John Walker, way behind him. It is recorded that Walker was left so surprised by this sudden kick that he simply stood and watched, dropping out of the race with 120 metres left to go.
Steve Ovett was coached by Harry Wilson, one of the best trainers of those days. In his book ‘Running My Way” Wilson describes, among others, Ovett’s methodical training schedule. A base of 24 weeks was broken down into 6 sessions of 4 weeks each, further classified into easy running, medium effort and hard aerobic running. In these 24 weeks, Ovett would average around 160 to 190 km per week. The intensity and speed would steadily increase with around 70% being done at a steadily medium pace, pushing hard at the end with the balance 30%. All this was combined with bouts of soft, anaerobic speed training.
Steve Ovett confesses that he had only one really tough opponent, although they raced against each other only six times. However, their competition and rivalry stayed firmly on the track alone; nothing was personal or political. To reproduce some quotes of Steve Ovett that immortalises this rivalry:
“Make no mistake, when the gun was fired, both of us wanted to win as badly as the other and that’s probably what drove us on to achieve what we did.But when you look at his place in the history of middle-distance running now, Seb Coe is one of the all-time greats.From first-hand experience of trying to catch the bugger, he was the hardest to run against because every compartment of his racing technique was bullet-proof.”
Stephen Michael Ovett, OBE now lives in Australia, working as an athletics commentator with CBC. However, his legacy lives on in Preston Park, his home town of Brighton, where a bronze statue was erected in 1987. Twenty years later it suddenly went missing and was finally replaced with a copy in 2012.