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Title: Once Upon a Time in Moscow: The Coe-Ovett Novel

Author: Richard Weaver

Pages: 381

Publisher: Self-published through Amazon

Release date: October 2023

ISBN: 978-1-3999-6310-7


There are enough running and or athletics-oriented books on the market to fill a small public library. There are athletics books that are philosophical in nature, for example, George Sheehan’s erudite canon. There are many novels, training programs, and the re-telling of famous stories. Biographies may make up the lion’s share. There are many books on science, so much so, that there are two recent releases with the same title, The Science of Running.

Like the Science of Running duplication, Once Upon a Time in Moscow is the namesake of Once Upon a Time in Moscow about the rise of the oligarchs. This is not that. Richard Weaver’s Once Upon a Time in Moscow, does, however, have a spy and espionage element. Yes, a running story, that is semi-biographical on two accounts. The first is indicated in the subtitle, “The Coe-Ovett Novel.” The other is foreshadowed in the main title, Once Upon a Time in Moscow. And the spy-slash-espionage thriller is implied in the cover image.

If your eyes did not dart to the pistol that the runner is carrying in mid-stride — the silhouetted figure — striding through the streets of Moscow — you are, as they say, a right-brained individual (we know the left/right brain hypothesis has been debunked, but you know what I mean).


Some of the bio-slash-semi-autobiographical storytelling of Weaver’s racing in Gorky Park in the Moscow parkrun is downright hilarious.

Weaver is an Ovett fan, so much so, that he assumes his identity in Gorky Park and at the World Masters Championships.

Waxing and waning between bouts of self-deprecation and aggrandization, Weaver’s self-talk and observational humour during each race and workout session are worth the price of admission.

Any runner can relate to the internal dialogue that Weaver tortures himself with. He nicknames his competitors, swears a lot, and promises to beat particular athletes with well-crafted tactics — next time, of course. Just as it becomes all too much he switches gears.


Just as the pages fly by as a sort of well-written personal running journal — with hilarity, the author switches gears to a side story that is cleverly interwoven.

The spy story is intriguing because we know the outcome of the Coe versus Ovett 1980 Moscow race. However, we do not know the outcome of the spy story, nor his autobiographical weave.

All three are winners. We know that both Coe and Ovett did some winning and losing in Moscow. There is the hilarity of his personal middle-aged journey as a second-language English teacher in Moscow. And the spy plot is well crafted, albeit jarring at times. Who’d think of an espionage story in a running tale?

Athletics Illustrated recommends this read.