A heralded Olympics confrontation fizzles

Steve Ovett defeated Sebastian Coe in the first round of their much-heralded "Battle of Britain," but it was a slow and relatively one-sided race that didn't really measure to expectations.

The pre-race excitement was there, of course, with a capacity crowd of 103, 000 jamming Lenin Stadium primarily to see the two Englishmen clash in the Olympic 800-meter final. Each had won his two heats leading up to this epic confrontation, and now the archrivals, who had avoided each other since 1978, were finally going head-to-head.

Coe had been expected to use his speed to take as big a lead as possible in hopes of holding off his rival's finishing kick, but it never happened. Ovett surged ahead for good on the second lap, and in the end it was Coe who had to rally all out from behind just to nip Nikolai Kirov of the USSR for second place several yards behind the winner. Ovett's time of 1,45. 4 was three seconds slower the Coe's world record of 1.42.4

"Some days you race well and some days you don't," the disappointed Coe said. "Another battle is coming along."

Ovett, known for his lack of cooperation with the news media, didn't show up for the postrace press conference.

The two meet again in the 1,500, with heats beginning Wednesday and the final on Friday. They share the world record of 3.32.1 for this distance, but it is considered Ovett's stronger event (just as the 800 was Coe's). Steve has won 28 straight races at this distance since a 1977 loss to Steve Scott, who isn't here because of the US boycott.

If Ovett can win the 1,500, he will be the first to complete the middle distance double since Australia's Peter Snell in 1964.

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