Thieves have snatched the bronze statue of Olympic gold medal-winner Steve Ovett.

They sawed the life-sized sculpture from its plinth in Preston Park over the weekend.

All that remained when gardening staff arrived at the park yesterday morning was a lone foot.

The 20-year-old figure will be missed by many park users, especially the many joggers spurred on by the sight of the running figure.

The Brighton-born athlete trained in the park as a child and went on to take part in the "race of the century" when he beat rival Sebastian Coe to first place in the 800 metres at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Park visitor Dennis Manville learned about the theft from a groundsman when he visited yesterday morning.

The 68-year-old, from Stanmer Villas, Brighton, fears the statue will be melted down and sold as scrap metal.

He said: "It's a wonder it wasn't secured more sufficiently.

"There has been a lot of vandalism in the park recently and it's a great shame. We really need a park-keeper to keep things in order. I know it would be expensive, but not as expensive as replacing statues and repairing damage."

Brighton and Hove city councillor Geoffrey Theobald said he was appalled by the theft.

He said: "Steve was a well-known figure in the city and this was a very pleasing statue which added to our visual appreciation of the park. I'm very disappointed and I hope if anyone is in receipt of the statue they will return it."

Sculptor Peter Webster, then a teacher at Cardinal Newman School, spent four years creating the £25,000 piece.

The city council lent him a studio in the Old Slipper Baths to use while he crafted the statue, which was paid for by private sponsors.

Mr Webster later created the statue of Max Miller which stands in New Road.

Mr Ovett's tribute has been the victim of two previous attacks.

Just six weeks after it was unveiled in 1987 vandals pushed it face down into the mud, and eight years later it was splattered with white paint.

During the nineties it was subjected to numerous humiliations by pranksters who stuck an Alf Garnett moustache on it, covered it in a woolly jumper and dressed it as a schoolgirl.

With no witnesses and no CCTV footage available, police have few leads to follow up but have appealed to anyone who may have seen anything to contact them.

At the Rotunda Cafe - where Mr Ovett's sister Susan was once manager - present owner Francis Incorvaja said crime was a major problem in the park.

Monuments and flowerbeds are frequently vandalised and the cafe was burgled last January.

He said: "There is no security here. We need better lighting and CCTV.

"A lot of money is spent on the upkeep of the park but I think a lot is wasted. It is very disheartening."

Anyone with information about the theft should contact Sussex Police on 0845 6070999 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Did you notice the status was missing? Have you seen other vandalism in the area? Leave your comments below.