Sebastian Coe of England defeated countryman and arch rival Steve Ovett in the Olympic 1,500-meter final today in a triumph of will, resilience and competitive spirit.

Miruts Yifter of Ethiopia won his second gold medal, taking the 5,000 meters in 13 minutes 21.0 seconds. Yifter, who says he is 37, captured the 10,000 meters Monday.

Gerd Wessig of East Germany set a world high jump record of 2.36 meters (7 feet 8 3/4 inches) and Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany won the Olympic marathon for the second consecutive time. He finished in 2 hours 11 minutes 2:41 seconds.

Six days after he ran dreadfully and finished a disappointed second to Ovett in the 800 meters, his best event, Coe ran a smart and gutsy if unspectacular race to snap Ovett's two-year, 28-race winning streak at his best distance.

Following East German Juergen Straub, who quickened the pace after two laps around the 400-meter track, Coe stayed near the lead the entire way and made his move coming through the final turn.

Accelerating smoothly, his stride at once rapid and lyrical, he blazed the last 200 meters in 25.7 seconds to win the gold medal in 3 minutes 38.4 seconds. Straub finished a split-second behind at 3:38.8, with Ovett a dejected third in 3:39 flat.

Thus the long-awaited duel for world supremacy in the middle distances between Britons of fascinatingly different personalities and running styles ended without a clear decision. Each man upset the other in his forte. s

Ovett, 24, a slashing, come-from-behind runner who thrives in the role of embattled loner and fiercely guards his privacy, won the 800 meters last Saturday in 1:45.4, three seconds off Coe's world record.

Coe, 23, an engaging extrovert who is as much the media's darling as Ovett is its ogre, won the first 1,500 meters he has run this year with a clocking 6.3 seconds off the world record he shares with Ovett, and 3.9 seconds off Kenyan Kip Keino's 1968 Olympic record of 3:34.9.

These were the first head-to-head meetings of Coe and Ovett on the track in two years. They will race again, surely, for their rivalry is a promoter's dream.

But never again are they likely to meet in circumstances as dramatic as today's, an Olympic rematch with grudge overtones before 103,000 spectators in jammed Lenin Central Stadium, where British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher didn't want any British athlete to appear because of the U.S.-led boycott of the Games.

Coe was haunted, but not daunted, by memories of his tactical mistakes in the 800-meter final and today he ran his race.

A light and fluid runner at 5 feet 9 and 129 pounds, Coe had showed that he gallops best as a front-runner in setting four world records, in the last 13 months. Three of those records he still holds.

Since Filbert Bayl of Tanzania had dropped out of the 1,500 to concentrate on the 3,000-meter steeplechase, there was no one in this nine-man field to force a fast early pace. Straub broke on top, and Coe settled in just behind him and stayed there through 1,300 meters.

He put on his winning burst about 180 meters from the finish, taking the lead and opening up enough ground in a few wondrous strides that Ovett -- usually a devastating finisher who kicks past opponents and tramples their spirits in the homestretch -- couldn't catch him.

A glance over his right shoulder as he rounded the last turn assured Coe that Ovett was not breathing down his neck and he sprinted to the wire with as much relief as exultation on his choir boy countenance. Then he dropped to his knees, buried his head in his hands and cried.

Moments later -- after Ovett had come up and extended his hand, as gracious in defeat as he usually is arrogant in victory -- Coe sidestepped a cluster of security guards and took a victory lap, his arms held high as he passed sections of cheering Britons waving Union Jacks.

Soviet television cameras cut to the flags and lingered on them as the commentators said of Coe and Ovett:

"In spite of their government's attempts to keep them away, they came, anyway -- and here they are, medal winners."

Great Britain's marquess of Exeter, 75 years old and a member of the International Olympic Committee for 47 years, presented the medals. In accordance with the British team's manner of protesting the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, the IOC flag was hoisted instead of the Union Jack and the Olympic hymn was played. But in the stands British spectators loudly sang their national anthem.

"The decision was made to have the Olympic flag raised, and I respect the reasons for it," said Coe, a vocal opponent of the boycott who adroitly side-stepped all political questions today. "Let's face it, when we had the Olympic anthem played by the band, we had 'God Save the Queen' being sung, so we really had it both ways."

Ovett looked almost sick for a moment on the home stretch as he realized that his fabled kick would be too little and too late this time, and that his unbeaten streak of 42 races at 1,500 meters and the mile, dating back to May 1977, was ending.

He tried hard not to let his disappointment show, smiling at the finish and on the awards podium. But his dejection was evident as he took off his bronze medal, just before exiting from the stadium and stuffed it in the pocket of his track suit.

Coe's father and coach had said after the 800-meter final that "There's no joy in that silver medal." Ovett obviously felt the same way about the bronze that had hung around his neck like lead. He is a ferocious competitor who has said that "middle-distance running is like a contact sport."

But today, Coe was the better fighter, responding positively to the 800-meter nightmare that could have ruined his confidence.

"Last Saturday was a terrible disappointment," he said "because that was the one I really came for. I'm not complaining about tonight. I thought I was equally well prepared. But there was a feeling in the back of my mind all the time that it wasn't possible to run, quite as badly again, and certainly not this soon."

In the 800 meters, Coe had been sluggish and unresponsive. Today he was alert, seemingly aware of what Ovett was doing behind him and sure of where he wanted to be. That was just a step behind pacemaker Straub, who took the initiative and picked up the pace after 800 meters.

"That allowed me to have a fairly uncluttered run to the tape, and that's what I was hoping for," Coe said. "Straub, by taking the lead halfway, enabled me to do what I do best, which is to run freely. As soon as I was in a lane by myself, I got into a groove, a rhythm. I prefer to fight from the front than from the back."

The cautious look over his shoulder in the final turn was not specifically for Ovett, but for whoever might be there, Coe said. In fact, he was surprised that Ovett, who had been on his heels before he made his move, was now so far back.

"I felt comfortable with the pace that was being run, so I felt why kick any later than that?" Coe said. "I had a chance of kicking and then stretching back out into a rhythm, perhaps a gear higher, for the remainder of the race.

"Getting in the kick first has always been Steve's great ability, and this is what won the 800 meters for him: he got the kick in while other people were in a bad situation. Once you've taken the initiative like that, you have a few yards you can play with and the other people are stretching to get back in it.

"I worked very hard last year on that element: changing the pace, going from race pace to race pace-plus," Coe continued. "I felt quite confident after looking at the video of the 800 meters that there was nothing wrong with my finishing. That was the only good thing I could find in about a minute and three-quarters of total disaster."

Today Coe made that critical shift into overdrive "race pace-plus" as smoothly as a custom-made Maserati. He was cruising, and it was Ovett who sensed disaster. They had chatted briefly before the race -- "very little, we just wished each other well," Coe said -- and afterward Coe felt a surge of sympathy for his beaten rival.

"We've both been losers on occasions here," he said. "We both trained extremely hard and sacrificed a lot. "We're both competitors. Of course, I feel for him."

This long, eventful closing day of track and field competition at the troubled Games of the 22nd Olympiad began and ended with the men's high jump. Sixteen finalists started the competition on a warm and sunny afternoon overlooked by cotton candy clouds and a Wedgewood sky. Three and a half hours later there was only Wessig, 21, a rich new talent. Jacek Wszola of Poland, the gold medalist four years ago who held the world's record of 7-8 1/2 with Dietmar Mogenburg of West Germany, was expected to repeat with Mogenburg absent. But he and Jorg Freihunth of East Germany went out on three misses at 7-7 3/4, after clearing 7-7.

Wessig had the gold medal, but he wanted the world's record, and got it on his second attempt at 7-8 3/4. With East Germans waving flags, singing and dancing to cheer him on, he then made three attempts at 7-9 3/4 but failed.

Yifter, the balding little Ethiopian who looks to be 50 going on forever, completed the gold medal double in the 5,000 and 10,000 that had been achieved in 1972 and 1976 by Lasse Viren of Finland.

Yifter missed the Montreal Olympics because of the Black African boycott there over New Zealand's sporting ties with South Africa, but he won the 5,000 and 10,000 at the World Cup in 1977 and 1979, and again in this stadium at last summer's Soviet sports festival, Spartakiad.

Today, the 5-foot-4, 117-pound "Yifter the Shifter" was in his usual form, scooting up to the front of the pack, drifting back, but spending most of his time on the heels of the front runner. Until the final lap.

Kaarlo Maaninka of Finland led when the gun lap was sounded, Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland immediately made his move, but Yifter shot by them on the inside as if jet-propelled and kicked home with plenty to spare.

Yifter's winning time was 13:21. Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania out-sprinted Maaninka to the silver medal in 13:21.6 and Coghlan finished fourth.

Cierpinski, who will be 30 on Sunday, startled the long distance running world four years ago at Montreal by winning the Olympic marathon in 2 hours 9 minutes 55 seconds, chugging along tirelessly in the rain. Today, in warm sunshine not conducive to fast times, he covered the level 26-mile 385-yard route from Lenin Stadium, along the serpentine Moscow River and back, in 2:11.03.

Cierpinski looked astonishingly fresh at the finish. After crossing the line, he raised his arms and reversed direction for a lap of honor, waiting for silver medalist Gerard Nijboer of Holland (2:11.20) to catch up so they could trot around arm-in-arm, waving to the admiring crowd. It was a touching moment that for a few seconds put the politics of polarization far from mind.

The other individual gold medalists today were Tatyana Kazankina of the Soviet Union, who set an Olympic record in the women's 1,500 meters handily in 3:56.6, and Evelin Jahl of East Germany, who successfully defended her Montreal gold medal (she was Evelin Schlaak then) in the women's discus. Her toss of 229-6 relegated world record holder Maria Petkova of Bulgaria to second place.

East Germany won the women's 4x100-meter relay in a world record 41.60 and the Soviet men won their 4x100 relay in a European record 38.26, then won the 4x400 in 3:01.1.

The men's relays really didn't mean much without the U.S. team, which usually dominates them. Such is the footnote to many events at this year's boycott Olympics. But the individual triumphs of Coe, Wessig, Yifter, Kazankina, Jahl and Cierpinski will live on in memory: golden performances to be cherished regardless of the opposition.