Date of Birth: 1970
Born: Pembury, Kent
Club(s): Tonbridge, Middlesex Ladies, Ealing, Southall and Middlesex.
Coach(s): Dave Arnold and Margo Jennings.
It’s Jingle, Jangle Time
Less than a month before the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, Kelly Holmes sat eight rows from the front of the main stand at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham. It was a Friday afternoon, 48 hours before a domestic international, and whirring about in her head, and then onto her lips, were doubts about whether she would be able to deliver this year.
If, at that present time, someone had said that she would win two Olympic gold medals, become Britain’s greatest ever woman Olympian and be made a Dame, she would probably have questioned their sanity. As she famously talked on that Friday afternoon, there was even a doubt whether she would be ready for the Olympics.
What happened next was a story so remarkable that by the following year, when she was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive her honour from Her Majesty The Queen, it was still a bit too much for Holmes to take in. She was there because she had won the 800m and 1500m Olympic titles, and as she was made a Dame, The Queen talked to her about the jangling noise of her medals. It was the stuff of fairytales.
Holmes had been one of the toughest members of the British team, and it was no surprise. She combined running for her country with serving her country, having joined the army at 18 where she trained to be a Sergeant, who specialised as a Physical Education Instructor. She had already established herself as an outstanding athlete after winning the English Schools Junior 1500m in 1983 and senior 1500m in 1987, but then she dropped out of the sport at the highest competitive level to concentrate on her military career.
By 1992 she was back, winning the Southern 800m and making a great breakthrough to world class the following year when she won both national titles outdoors and her first Grand Prix race at Stockholm. She then broke two minutes for the first time at Oslo and in 1994, in Victoria, she won the first major title of her career when she triumphed in the 1500m, having finished second at the European Championships earlier that summer in Helsinki.
Twelve months on, at the World Championships in Gothenburg, Holmes won silver in the 1500m and bronze in the 800m and broke British records at 800m and 1000m. Her first Olympics in 1996 saw the bravery which was to mirror her career, because she battled through the toil of injury. A stress fracture of her left leg in Atlanta meant she had to run after having cortisone injections and as much as she remained tough, her body just could not take her onto the podium despite two stirring performances. And then came the morning which she would never forget.
Holmes had decide to concentrate fully on her career on the track and she left the army in 1997, a decision which saw her soar to World No 1 over the 1500m. It meant that on the first morning of the World Championships in Athens, a spring was in the step for all of those from Briton who were in the Olympic Stadium. It was 9.30am and the heats of the women’s 1500m were taking place.
The reason was the anticipation that here at this competition Holmes would finally land the global title her career looked destined for. As the runners prepared to move into the final 200m of another lap, competing at a pedestrian pace, Holmes suddenly disappeared out of view. In an instant she was seen, balancing against an advertising hoarding after being struck with the cruellest of athletics blows at the cruellest of times. She had ruptured an Achilles Tendon , and as the heat finished, she made the long, lonely walk down the home straight, hobbling into the arms of a British official - and together they shed tears of despair.At that point, Holmes' career looked in pieces. Not so much the physical side, but the mental side. How could she ever return from this setback? It needed almost a year for her to recover, but she did so in style, winning silver at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. It was far from her greatest honour, but it showed the guts she possessed.
After being knocked out in the semi-finals of the 800m at the World Championships in Seville in 1999 (she did not run the 1500m because of further injuries leading up to the event), she made a late start to the track season in 2000, but took the AAA title at 800m and made a wondrous return to top form at the Olympic Games in Sydney, when, from a season’s best of 2:00.35, she ran 1:58.45 in her semi-final and then 1:56.80 to take the bronze medal in the 800m final, where she made a determined bid, taking the lead on the last lap. As her great friend and rival Maria Mutola, of Mozambique, won gold, Holmes’ smile was equally wide and famously, in the mixed zone area below the stand, where athletes and media gather together, she said, 22 times in five minutes: “I cannot believe it!”. Glandular fever meant her preparations for the 2001 World Championships suffered and she did well to finish sixth in Edmonton in the 800m, but she showed that the Championships had come a few weeks too early for her, with a splendid series of races on the Grand Prix circuit, with best times of 1:57.88 and 1:57.90 for second places in Zürich and Brussels, culminating in second places to Mutola at both the Goodwill Games and Grand Prix Final.
In 2002, in Manchester, she regained the Commonwealth Games 1500m title in 4:05.99 and she attempted a double at the European Championships in Munich, starting with a fine bronze at 800m in 1:59.93, but, after three rounds, having to run her heat of the 1500m on the following morning proved too much and she did not advance with her 4:08.11 for fourth place.
At the end of 2002, she had accepted an offer from Mutola to train with her in Johannesburg. Holmes knew South Africa well having spent many a winter preparing there and though she had been inspired for so long by her coach from Kent, the late Dave Arnold, she now came under the guidance of American Margo Jennings, a former ballet dancer. In 2003, in her first indoor 1500m race since she ran 4:46.07 as a 15-year-old in 1986, she had a commanding win in Glasgow in 4:12.51. Then she took two seconds off the 15 year-old British indoor record for 800m with 1:59.21 in second place to Mutola in Gent before a most astute race to take the silver medal in the World Indoor 1500m, taking over four seconds off the British indoor record with 4:02.66.
At the Worlds, despite claims of the pair helping each other out, Holmes, after making a late decision to switch from the 1500m, won silver in the 800m as Mutola took gold. She was a major candidate for 1500m gold at the World Indoors in Budapest in 2004, but fell in the final. Then came the uncertainty at Birmingham; then came glorious, unbelievable success. The 800m was first at the Olympics in Athens and Holmes was so composed in every round but Mutola was the defending champion and the British star had beaten her so rarely. But 24 hours after a country had been shocked by Paula Radcliffe not finishing the marathon, the mood of celebration became immense when Holmes took control of the 800m and held on to win gold in 1:56.38, holding off Mutola, who ended up fourth, and the late charge from Hasna Benhassi and Jolanda Ceplak, who both shared the time of 1:56.43.
The photograph of Holmes' eyes almost popping out, when she realised she had triumphed after not being so sure when she crossed the line, won almost as many awards as her. She was the first British woman to win an Olympic track gold medal since Sally Gunnell in the 400m hurdles in Barcelona in 1992, but five days later, she wrote an even greater piece of history. Not since 1920, when Albert Hill triumphed at the Olympic Games in Antwerp, had a Briton won both the 800m and 1500m double on this stage, but how Holmes bridged that gap. Showing supreme confidence, she won the 1500m in magisterial fashion in 3:57.90, taking 0.17 off her seven-year-old British record. It was her first injury free season for years - and what a year. What followed was incredible. She had a bus tour around her home village in Kent, where it was estimated that 80,000 people came out to see her, she was the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, she won the IAAF women’s performance of the year and the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year award.
Awarded MBE in 1998, she was advanced to DBE in the 2005 New Year Honours but as a re-occurring problem with her right Achilles tendon flared up in 2005, she knew then it was the right time to retire. She did so at the end of the season, but her popularity remains, from appearing in reality television shows on ice, to visiting the sick, to training a group of some of the best middle-distance youngsters in the country at her exclusive camps. As someone said, mention the name Kelly to anyone in Britain and they will know who you mean.
1993: sf 800m Worlds
1994: 1st 1500m Commonwealth Games, 2nd 1500m Europeans, 3rd 1500m World Cup
1995: 2nd 1500m, 3rd 800m Worlds
1996: 4th 800m, 11th 1500m Olympics
1997: ht 1500m Worlds
1998: 2nd 1500m Commonwealth Games
1999: sf Worlds
2000: 3rd 800m, 7th 1500m Olympics
2001: 6th 800m Worlds
2002: 1st 1500m Commonwealth Games, 3rd 800m, ht 1500m Europeans
2003: 2nd 1500m World Indoors; 2nd 800m Worlds
2004: 9th 1500m World Indoors, 1st 800m & 1500m Olympics
European Cup: 1994- 2nd 1500m, 1995- 1st 1500m, 1996- 2nd 800m, 1997- 1st 1500m, 2002- 4th 800m
UK Internationals: 27 (1993-2005)
Won AAA 800m 1993, 1995-6, 1999-2001, 2004; 1500m 1994, 1996, 2002; AAA indoor 800m 2001, 2004; UK 800m 1993, 1997
200m 24.8 (1996), 400m 53.8 (1996), 600m 1:25.41 (2003, UK best), 800m 1:56.21 (1995, UK record), 1000m 2:32.55 (1997, UK record), 1500m 3:57.90 (2004, UK record), 1M 4:28.04 (1998), 3000m 9:01.91 (2003), road 10km 34:54 (1997)
Indoors: 800m 1:59.21 (2003), 1000m 2:32.96 (2004), 1500m 4:02.66 (2003).