Kelly Holmes's year of improbable success came to a widely predicted conclusion last night when she was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year - by the length of a home straight.
The 34-year-old's achievement in winning two gold medals at the Athens Olympics may have come as a surprise, but her victory at the BBC Centre in Wood Lane was a racing certainty.
Holmes, who is likely to enjoy further acknowledgement in the New Year's Honours List, was 50-1 on to become the first black woman winner in the award's 51-year history. And the bookies weren't disappointed as the public responded to the Kent runner's historic achievements through live voting in the final hour of the programme.
Matthew Pinsent, who announced his retirement earlier this month after winning a fourth Olympic gold rowing medal with the coxless fours in Athens, had to settle for the runner-up position, but had the consolation of being named in the Team of the Year.
After stepping up in a little black backless dress to receive her silver camera on a tripod from Lord Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Bid committee, the Olympic 800m and 1,500m champion admitted she had "made no secret" of wanting to win this award.
"I have been on my campaign," she said with a nervous grin, "because I feel this is the highest sporting honour the public can give you".
Describing the award as "the icing on the cake" after her Olympic success, she added that she had been more nervous waiting for the result than she had been before her 1,500 metres final in Athens.
"Normally I am not a contender for this award, but tonight it was all very different," she said. "People have been telling me for weeks that I would win by a mile, but I didn't want to take anything for granted. I didn't want people not to vote because they thought I would win anyway, so everyone I saw, I told them not to forget to vote for me.
"I have been so overwhelmed by the support I have had from the public. I really mean it. My medals are very, very worn now. They've probably been touched by a million people. But when you see the pleasure they give it is so worthwhile."
Asked what had been the highlight of her experiences in the wake of her victory, she reeled off what was clearly a now-familiar list of extraordinary events.
"I've met Tom Cruise and David Beckham, I've been on the set of EastEnders, I've had dinner with Princess Anne and the Queen ... it's all been crazy. But I have loved every minute of it."
Her highlight, however, was the open-top bus ride she took around her home town of Tonbridge, which attracted a crowd of 80,000 people.
"To be on the top of that bus with all my family and the friends who mean so much to me, watching people hanging out of windows and off roofs, waving Union Jacks, and all for me, is something I will never forget," she said.
"I only ever had two goals - to become a physical training instructor in the Army, and to be the Olympic champion. That was the only thing I ever, ever dreamed of. Now I've done both - I feel lost."
The England cricketer Andrew Flintoff was in third position. The boxer Amir Khan and the footballer Wayne Rooney were also shortlisted.
Sport, page 46
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