Olympic hero Steve Ovett has unveiled a permanent reminder of his success just days before the London Games begin.

The runner’s gold medal in the 800 metres at the 1980 Moscow Games has been rated one of the most iconic moments in the history of the Olympics.

With London 2012 just around the corner, the athlete yesterday unveiled a new statue of himself on Brighton seafront.

It came on the same day that Brighton-born Mr Ovett was honoured by being made a freeman of the city.

Mr Ovett, who now lives in Australia, was tearful when he received the honour at Brighton Town Hall.

He said: “I’m quite emotional. It’s a wonderful day for the city. Brighton really did make me who I am. The chalk downland made my legs strong and the hills certainly made me fit.

“But the people of Brighton really enjoy life and I tried to take that fun attitude wherever I went.

“I did not expect to win a gold medal and I did not expect to receive this honour.”

The proposal was made by Bill Randall , the mayor of Brighton and Hove.

Coun Randall said: “I cannot think of a better way for the city to celebrate the Olympics than to replace the statue but also make the city’s most famous sporting son a freeman of the city.”

Mr Ovett, who was educated at Varndean School in Brighton, was also a world record-holder at 1,500 metres and the mile.

A bronze statue to the athlete used to stand in Preston Park. However, it was cut down and stolen in September 2007.

Chris Gargan, of Brighton-based Kingspan, who helped fund the £50,000 replacement statue, said: “This has been three or four years in the making. It’s been a real collaborative effort.”

The artist behind the original sculpture, Bright-on-based Pete Webster, was tasked with creating the new statue. It stands on a stone plinth in Madeira Drive, near the finishing line of the Brighton Marathon course. From the statue to the Palace Pier and back again is 800 metres.

Among those present was Sylvia Baker, 87, who was an Olympic torchbearer last week and taught Mr Ovett at Balfour Junior School. She said: “I always knew he would do something special. I actually wanted him to be a swimmer.”

Only four Freedom of the City honours have been awarded since Brighton and Hove City Council was formed in 1997.

Veteran Argus local government correspondent Adam Trimingham and First World War veteran Henry Allingham have both received the honour.

Last year Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Brighton resident Flight Lieutenant Marc Heal, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after rescuing injured troops in Afghanistan, also received the honour.