By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckIt tells you everything you need to know about Peter Elliott that the greatest disappointment of his sporting life was neither failing to earn selection for the 1984 Olympic 1500 metres despite having beaten eventual winner Seb Coe at the trials, nor missing out on gold at the Seoul Games four years later- and 25 years to the day on October 1 - behind Kenya's 21-year-old unknown Peter Rono, although that was a savage and enduring source of hurt.

No. The biggest disappointment for a man who hung up his spikes in possession of Olympic and world silver as well as Commonwealth gold and bronze came in 1990, when he was unfit to run a race on his local track in Rotherham.

It was not just any race, of course, but the one billed to open officially the synthetic track for which Elliott had campaigned over the previous seven years.

"Not being able to run in front of my home crowd that night was the biggest disappointment of my career," says Elliott, who has recently taken over as Deputy Director of Operations at the English Institute of Sport having spent eight years there as a regional director.

What Elliott had in mind was an opening flourish similar to the one which Brendan Foster provided on the newly laid track of the Gateshead stadium in 1974 when he lived up to his somewhat rash promise of marking the occasion with a world record, breaking Emil Puttemans' 3000 metres time of 7min 37.6sec as he clocked 7:35.2.

brendanfosterwinning19735kBrendan Foster, pictured in 1973, set a world 3000m record the following year to inauguate the new track at Gateshead Stadium - but injury prevented Peter Elliott providing a similar flourish for his new track in Rotherham in 1990

"I had just run a personal best of 1:42.97 for the 800m in Seville, and I felt like I was in the shape of my life and ready to do something special for the people who had supported me for so many years," Elliott recalls.

"We had been working to get a synthetic track at the stadium since 1983. On the night it was very, very still and it would have been perfect for me. But I had torn my calf in a training session a couple of days before.

"After Seville I had had a training session which had not been great. Sometimes, even as an experienced athlete, you get doubts. So I went out and did another session to prove that I was in great shape, and it went well. And then I went out and did another - and on my last 800 I tore my calf muscle."

The sense of letdown was acute - as I can vouch, having travelled up to Rotherham to cover a race where the ginger-haired local hero had to content himself with firing the starting pistol.

Elliott recovered sufficiently to finish fourth in that year's European Championships in a race won by East Germany's Jens-Peter Herold - after being reinstated against his wishes having been tripped in the semi-final. At the following year's European Cup final he beat the new European champion in the 1500m, but that was to prove his swansong. Six weeks away from competing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, his career was ended by a torn hamstring - sustained on his home track in Rotherham.

That painful irony was just one of a number of reversals of fortune endured in the sporting life of this 50-year-old product of Rawmarsh in South Yorkshire who worked full-time as a joiner for British Steel until January 1, 1988 - after which, at his own request, he switched to four hours a day.

Last year, scandalously, a man who devoted his working life to ensuring the provision of sports science and medicine support for British athletes did not receive the two free tickets due to be offered to former Olympians by the British Olympic Association for London 2012, which then compounded the error by leaving him off the list of former British medallists invited to parade at the Opening Ceremony.

As he looks back on his running career now, however, it is still the Olympics which give him greatest cause for satisfaction - even if that satisfaction took some time to register with him.

"It was very special to win the Commonwealth Games 1500m gold in 1990 because I knew I was in the best shape of my life and it was a field of high quality. There were the Kenyans, of course, and John Walker was there running on home territory. I was hoping Seb [Coe] would be in the final too but unfortunately he withdrew. Having the Queen and Prince Philip in the stands also made it special. I knew that everything had gone right in my preparation and I felt very confident.

"But the medal that meant the most was my 1500m silver at the Seoul Olympics. It was a solid achievement, even though it took me 12 years to appreciate that. Seb had won it in 1980 and 1984, and I was determined to keep up the tradition. We had had a golden era of Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram, a time when British milers dominated the event. So to get beaten by a surprise athlete like Peter Rono, it was disappointing. I had the feeling I had let the mantle fall and had let British middle distance running down.

elliottandronoSteve Cram (left) and Peter Elliott in pursuit of Kenya's surprise winner of the 1988 Olympic 1500m title, Peter Rono

"It wasn't until I was working for Brendan Foster at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where I was helping covering the track and field races for Nova International's website, that I realised how difficult it was to win an Olympic medal. There had only been 26 Olympic 1500m silvers given out, and I thought 'I've got one of them.'

"But when people come to my house expecting it to be on show – it's not. It's hidden away in a box.

"I went to Seoul to become the Olympic 1500m champion, and in an ideal world I wouldn't have had the controversy about being selected for the team, although I don't think that added to the pressure I felt, because that came from me - I had set my stall out to be Olympic champion."

That controversy was a benighted "Coe Must Go" campaign by the Daily Mirror to try and ensure that the 1980 and 1984 champion had the opportunity to defend his title again. The paper called for Coe to go in Elliott's place, and ran a cartoon depicting the former as a thoroughbred and the latter as a carthorse.

The controversy made headline item on ITV's Ten O'Clock News, and Elliott recalls with dismay the hate mail which was sent at the time to his parents' home in Rotherham.

"After the third hate mail letter I asked my mum and dad to check for any others and throw them away. People just wanted to vent their anger but unfortunately it was vented at me. The three letters I read were from people who clearly didn't understand the selection criteria.

"The Daily Mirror campaign was quite wrong. I was told by someone on the paper afterwards that the fact that I had beaten Seb four years earlier in the trials and not got a 1500m place just made it a better story.

"But there was no story. Steve Cram was pre-selected, and the other two 1500m places were on offer to athletes who finished first and second in the trials and achieved the qualifying time. Unfortunately Seb was ill and didn't qualify for the final. Steve Crabb and I simply did the job we had to do - I won the final and he was second, and we both ran the qualifying time. So my name was first on the team sheet."

Four years earlier Elliott had watched the 1500m final in Los Angeles having had to withdraw from the 800m semi-final because of injury. "I cheered Seb all the way down the home straight," he says. "Once Ovett was out I cheered for Seb."

coewins1984Seb Coe, chosen in preference to trials winner Peter Elliott, defends his Olympic 1500m title in Los Angeles. "I cheered him all the way down the home straight" says Elliott.

Elliott's fondness for Ovett, he says, stemmed from the encouragement the Olympic champion-in-waiting had given him and other 16-year-old athletes when they were training in 1979 over the sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr in Wales under the supervision of Ovett's coach, Harry Wilson.

They had a further bond last year, when the BOA also failed to offer Ovett an invitation to the Opening Ceremony parade.

The decision not to include him in the 1984 Olympic 1500m selection, even though he had earned that win over Coe, is one about which Elliott is now philosophical. "At 21, you are feeling that maybe you have been hard done to," he says. "But what I've realised since is that I was probably too fit too early that season. When I won the trials I was probably in the best shape of the season. But Seb was still building up to that point, and he proved in Los Angeles that he had got it right."

elliottbeatscoe84Peter Elliott beats Seb Coe in the 1984 Olympic trials

Four years on, it seemed that Elliott was the one who had got everything right. But that perception altered dramatically as he was preparing to run the 800 metres final in Seoul.

"When I was warming up I felt a pain in my abdomen and I couldn't run," he recalls. "It turned out I had torn my symphysis pubis cartilage. So I had the choice of sitting out an Olympic final or doing something."

Elliott decided to do something. It involved a series of pain-killing injections, including a cortisone injection that this no-nonsense working man described as the most painful experience of his life.

"I had a local anaesthetic in the area of the problem, and the day after the 800m final, where I finished fourth, I had a cortisone injection," he says. "When they do that they put the needle in and have to move it around until they find the right spot. It was very painful.

elliottfourthin800erengwincruzsecondA disappointed Peter Elliott finishes fourth in the 1988 Olympic 800m final behind Kenyan winner Paul Ereng

"The 1500 rounds were on successive days, and there were only two days between them and the 800 final, so I was on bed rest for that time. I knew I had to get to the 1500m final after all the fuss there had been over my selection, particularly as Seb had won the last two Olympic titles at that distance.

"In total at the Seoul Olympics I had seven races in nine days. People do forget that I was the only athlete there who ran in both the 800 and 1500m finals. Said Aouita had to pull out of the 1500m final with a hamstring problem.

"I was able to do some jogging before each round of the 1500, but if I wanted to do any strides I had to have another injection. The jabs masked the pain, but I felt a little bit apprehensive about what was going on."

The final itself is still clear in Elliott's memory.

"At the start, as I heard the words 'On your marks', I remember saying to myself, 'My legs are tired'," he recalls. "While Peter Rono was running his third race of the Games, I was running my seventh. I have sometimes said to myself since 'If I'd only run the 1500, who knows?' My legs would certainly have been a lot fresher. But I can't use that as an excuse. I had set my stall out on doubling at 800/1500, and all my racing that season had been aiming at that.

"The race started really slow, but then Marcus O'Sullivan obviously said to himself 'I want to make this quicker'. At that point I was quite badly boxed in and I was thinking 'I've got to get out of this'. Then when Rono went to the front I thought 'OK. We've got a pacemaker here.' Speaking to Steve Cram after the race, when we were waiting in doping control, he said he had felt exactly the same thing. This was just what we wanted. But unfortunately the gap he had was never lost.

"I remember before the 800m final I saw one of the Kenyans' agents before the race and I asked him who he thought would win, and he said 'Paul Ereng.' Well at that time he wasn't a favourite and he had lost a previous race at Crystal Palace. But he won it. So when I saw the agent again before the 1500m final I asked him again about who he thought would win. And he said 'Peter Rono.'

"At the time, he had only won the Kenyan trials, and I don't think he ever won another race. But he has gone down in history because he got it right when it mattered."

Elliott is right. Rono - who became the youngest Olympic 1500m champion at the age of 21 years and 62 days - never did win another major race. He went on to study and compete for Mount St Mary's University in Maryland and spent time there coaching before going on to a marketing career with shoe manufacturer New Balance.

"I spoke a few years ago to someone who was writing Rono's life story, but I haven't kept in touch with him personally," says Elliott, who reveals that he thought his career was finished by the end of the Seoul Olympics.

"After the 1500m final I really thought I would never ever run again. It took me a long time to get things right. Once I had flown home from Seoul I went straight to a hospital in Coles Hill which was run by nuns, and I had two weeks' bed rest. I will always be grateful to my physio, Debbie Horne, for all the work she did after that to get me back on track."

Incredibly, by the start of 1990, Elliott estimates he was in his "best shape ever", and his preparations for the Commonwealth Games which took place in Auckland from January 24-February 3 went perfectly.

His final, too, went perfectly according to plan. This time round the misfortune befell two of his long-term rivals. Coe, run out of the medals an 800m final that was to be his last competitive outing, had withdrawn from the 1500m because of illness. And early in the race the 38-year-old local hero Walker, the former world mile record holder and 1976 Olympic champion whose preparations had been disrupted when he had been kicked by one of the horses he owned, hit the deck after colliding with Australia's Pat Scammell.

Kirochi, world junior champion, was a big threat, however, as were his compatriots Joseph Chesire, who had placed fourth in the Olympics and world championships, and the up-and-coming William Tanui, who was become Olympic 800m champion two years later. But once Elliott had taken the lead at the bell there was no stopping him, and a second surge with 200m left sent him finally clear of Kirochi.

elliottaucklandwinUnstoppable - Peter Elliott strides out to claim the 1990 Commonwealth Games 1500m title

Elliott was a supercharged athlete at that time, as was clear from the startling 800m personal best of 1:42.97 he set later in 1990 on May 30 at the Seville meeting, which made him the sixth fastest two-lap runner in history and fastest in the world that year.

"I surprised myself, to be honest," he says. "I didn't really expect to do that at that stage of the season. But then I had prepared for the Commonwealths in January and then done an indoor season. In retrospect, I maybe didn't have enough of a break after Auckland and was running a bit too fast too early.

"In the race I remember going past Johnnie Gray in the home straight and all I was thinking was "21 wins on the trot". But after looking at the clock I went over to my agent Kim McDonald and asked him 'When did the clock stop?' I thought it must have stopped at some point when I was in the home straight. And he said 'No, Peter. You stopped it.'

"After that I was thinking 'Could I have run a little bit faster?' Because my best at 1500, 3:32.69, came in a head-to-head with Crammie in 1990 at Sheffield. I never ran in a really fast, fast 1500 race. So that 800m time meant a lot to me."

As he looks back in his days in athletics now, Elliott clearly draws satisfaction from the way he managed to achieve top level success while holding down a physically demanding full-time job. "I trained twice a day, which meant getting up at 5.30 in the morning and then training in the dark after work. It was a hard manual job too. But while I was at British Steel I reached the 1984 Olympic semi-final and won Commonwealth bronze in 1986 and a world silver in 1987."

As one of the press covering the Commonwealth Games in Auckland where Elliott finally earned his much-deserved gold, I remember well his gesture in delaying his lap of honour to insist that the forlorn figure of New Zealand's running idol, John Walker, should accompany him around the Mount Smart stadium. The style is the man.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. His latest book Foul Play – the Dark Arts of Cheating in Sport (Bloomsbury £12.99) is available at the shop. To follow him on Twitter click here.