The return of mile record-holder Eamonn Coghlan, Billy Olson's search for a 19-foot pole vault and the continuing battle between Mary Decker Tabb and the clock provide the chief interest as indoor track's big-meet circuit begins competition Friday with the Ottawa Games in Canada's capital.

Mobil's failure to follow through on plans for a Washington meet and the demise of the Philadelphia Track Classic leave Richmond's East Coast Invitational Saturday as the closest major competition to the Nation's Capital. But it is the 76th Millrose Games in New York Jan. 28 that provides the focal point of all the indoor competition.

A potential stumbling block is the attempt by hurdling king Renaldo Nehemiah, now of the San Francisco 49ers, to return to track meets. Originally granted reinstatement to domestic meets by The Athletics Congress, Nehemiah was ordered banned from all competition by the International Amateur Athletics Federation.

Now Ron Stanko, Nehemiah's attorney, talks of instituting a lawsuit to force TAC to permit Nehemiah to compete. A court injunction could create some real difficulties, since world-class athletes would not risk an IAAF ban to run in the same meet.

A possible scenario in the event of legal intercession might have Nehemiah hurdling against a couple of nonentities, with the remainder of the meet unaffected. That was the way it was done in the 1950s when distance runner Wes Santee, barred for accepting illegal payments, was permitted to run by court order.

Coghlan's return, after missing his first indoor campaign in nine years because of a stress fracture, offers more positive food for thought. He holds the indoor mile mark of 3:50.6 and reports that he is fit and ready to go for a sub-3:50 time.

Steve Scott, America's best miler, is competing outdoors in New Zealand and will miss most of the indoor campaign. However, Tom Byers, who lost to Scott by inches at Millrose a year ago, is reported in his best form ever and will be gunning for Coghlan.

An added touch to indoor track's glamor event is the presence of Mark Fricker, a front-runner with the ability to maintain his lead to the finish. Although the stars use most rabbits for pace-setting purposes only, they cannot afford to discount Fricker.

Olson, who raised the indoor pole vault best four times last winter, will try to lift it from the current 18-10 level into 19-foot altitude attained officially only by two persons outdoors, Vladimir Polyakov and Thierry Vigneron.

Decker Tabb, who lowered the indoor mile mark three times last winter and set 2,000-meter and 3,000-meter records, plans an extensive indoor campaign, although she, like virtually every other competitor, has her 1983 sights set on the first World Track and Field Championships outdoors in Helsinki.

Carl Lewis, with a 28-1 long jump a year ago, will compete in most of the major indoor meets. Others who bear special scrutiny are sprinters Stanley Floyd, Calvin Smith and Evelyn Ashford; Kenyan Sammy Koskei in the 800 and 1,000; Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania in the 5,000, and Darrell Robinson in the 500.

Don Paige, the 1,000 record holder, is injured, and a bruised shoulder likely will keep Georgia football star Herschel Walker idle, too. Marathon star Alberto Salazar will compete in only two indoor 5,000s, at the Olympic Invitational and Toronto.

Locally, interest centers on the bid of Navy high jumper Leo Williams to accomplish a third straight IC4A-NCAA indoor sweep. Benita Fitzgerald, the Tennessee hurdler from Dale City, Va., once again will be battling Candy Young and Stephanie Hightower in an event that promises substantial record cutting.

Mobil once again will sponsor a Grand Prix program, with $150,000 to be distributed to athletes through their clubs on the basis of performances in 24 events--14 for men and 10 for women--at 16 designated meets.

The indoor schedule:

Jan. 14, Ottawa; 15, East Coast, Richmond; 15, Eastman, Johnson City, Tenn.; 15, Horizon Games, Rosemont, Ill.; 16, Mondo, Sherbrooke, Quebec; 21, Sunkist, Los Angeles; 22, Albuquerque, N.M.; 28, Millrose, New York; 29, Mason-Dixon, Louisville.

Feb. 4, Maple Leaf, Toronto; 4, L.A. Times, Inglewood, Calif.; 5, Times Herald, Dallas; 11, Foot Locker, San Francisco; 12, Olympic, East Rutherford, N.J.; 13, Manitoba, Winnipeg; 18, Michelob, San Diego; 19, Cleveland K of C, Richfield, Ohio; 19, Oregon, Portland; 19-20, Big East, Syracuse; 25, TAC/USA, New York; 26-27, Heptagonals, New Haven, Conn.

March 5-6, IC4A, Princeton, N.J.; 11-12, NCAA, Pontiac, Mich.