Ovett - 24 years on and still talking sense!
What, a trackie on MST?! Well, anyone who trained up Merthyr Mawr for fun and regularly took part in XC throughout an illustrious career qualifies for this site. The Brighton flyer was a runner, first and foremost. The product of an era which believed that anyone aspiring to be a good track runner had to embark on running of all varieties – simple really…
Never one to mince his words Steve Ovett must have had middle-Englanders everywhere spitting their early morning cornflakes out with his latest comments on the lack of quality in depth within the British distance team.
Hearing the legendary middle distance maverick at the Beijing Games recently bought a breath of fresh air to proceedings, commenting on our only middle-distance-runner-within-sniffing-distance-of-the Africans, Andy Baddeley, during Olympic Breakfast, he said “He’s good, but to be perfectly honest, he’s not good enough”, and with Brendan Foster unleashing the beast too it seems that the time has come for the greats to speak their mind on the current state of men’s distance running in the UK. So, what better time to do a book review of a text scribed by Brighton’s finest ever athlete some 24 years ago?
I first read Ovett: An Autobiography in 1985, eyes wide open, a junior runner, naive but inquisitive. Ovett was my hero, the anti-Coe, the Working Class hero versus the Loughborough Toff, in a rivalry that gripped the world of athletics – Steve Ovett, the guy who stuck two fingers up at the establishment (and still does to this day), took on the world, and beat them. He wore a Russian vest when breaking the world mile record in Koblenz in 1981, a year after the American boycott of the Moscow games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He had a girlfriend (Rachel) and famously did ILY air-writing after every race at those games – long before the ease of mobile phone texting, as he knew she would be watching at home, unwell in the UK, tortured by the lack of acceptance from Ovett’s parents.
You get insight into Ovett’s private life, his training methods guided by the much-missed Harry Wilson (160 mpw, and monster sand dune sessions at Merthyr Mawr, in South Wales) and his clashes with the powers-that-be. You understand the sacrifices that he made to become the best and most strikingly how he was just an every-day guy with a great talent for running. Predictably, perhaps, the most compelling sections are those chapters detailing the Moscow Games. You can almost smell the sweat in the call-up room as he describes walking into “the bowels of the stadium” in the minutes before the 800m final, the world on Seb Coe’s shoulders, and going on to wreck the Coe party, ‘stealing’ the gold in an event that wasn’t supposed to be his to steal.
The writing is strong and powerful, and still stands up in today’s climate of edgy books and even edgier language. The honesty in this book is refreshing, unhindered by sponsors to please and publishers to bow down to, and whatever your views on Steve Ovett as a man, as an athlete, this book really is an effortless read that will keep you reading until the last page.