Kelly Holmes: The extraordinary story of the army girl plagued by injury who never gave up on her dream

Her rivals know her only from her back, as she accelerates away from them and their legs refuse to respond. We are luckier; we've seen her victories from the front, and the thing we'll always remember about Kelly Holmes is her face: that mixture of smile and astonishment in her moments of achievement in Athens.

Her rivals know her only from her back, as she accelerates away from them and their legs refuse to respond. We are luckier; we've seen her victories from the front, and the thing we'll always remember about Kelly Holmes is her face: that mixture of smile and astonishment in her moments of achievement in Athens.

Not for her Seb Coe's patrician look of smooth assumption, Steve Ovett's determined grimace in Moscow, or the strong, silent grace of Steve Redgrave. Holmes's look is one of wide-eyed delight, and it has lit up Britain's Olympics like the throwing of a switch on Blackpool promenade.

And that's not all it illuminates. It shines a light, too, on the story of someone whose success has been nothing like as spontaneous as her grin.

The woman who has now become a sporting legend in the time it takes to boil an egg has travelled a long, injury-strewn road that would have left other, less spirited athletes falling by the wayside. The daughter of a Jamaican father she rarely sees and a British mother who works in a Kent hospital X-ray department, Kelly Holmes first appeared on an athletic track when her mother, Pam, took her along at the age of 12.

Her first coach, Dave Arnold, said last night: "Within a couple of sessions, I could see she was a determined young girl and physically strong. I remember saying to myself: 'That girl's got some talent'. It was noticeable immediately."

She became a successful junior athlete, and then, at the age of 18, she quit running and opted for military life and the role of army physical education instructor. Such a vanishing act happens with many promising athletes and nearly all of them are never heard of again.

But Holmes was different. In 1992, watching the Barcelona Olympics on television, she saw contemporaries on the world stage, and some ember of ambition for success at the highest level was rekindled. She began training in earnest again.

She soon became a British international, dividing her time between the army post and her track career. In 1995, Holmes won silver and bronze medals at the World Championships in Gothenburg, but then came trouble: a series of injuries, including a stress fracture to her foot and an Achilles heel injury. Her first crack at the Olympics, in 1996, saw her finish only fourth in the 800m and 11th over 1500m.

Four years later, she took bronze, and she always seemed to be written up as a "nearly woman". Then she hooked up with Maria Mutola, the Mozambican champion. Kelly never looked back. She won the 1500m Commonwealth Games gold in 2002, and that winter trained in South Africa with world number one Mutola, whom she battled past in the 800m.

The following summer she was hit by a calf injury, but still finished with a silver medal behind Mutola over 800m at the World Championships. Injury problems troubled her again later that year and she admitted that they sometimes caused her to lose heart. "When your body falls apart it gets to you and there are only so many setbacks you can take and only so many things you can come through," she said.

But she did come through, and that smile tells it. She is not the only one whose grins betray a knowledge of what Holmes has had to beat to achieve sporting immortality. Her mother, Pam Thompson, speaking from her home in Hildenborough, near Tonbridge, Kent, where she watched the Games, declared last night: "I'm the proudest mum in Britain tonight. In fact, proud doesn't even begin to describe it. I was really nervous before the race, but Kelly was looking so strong. You could just tell she was going to do it.

"Kelly hoped she'd come away from the Olympics with a gold medal, but I don't think she ever dreamt she'd get two. She's earned so much respect, especially for the age she is. She's 34, she's made history, and she's my girl."

There will be a tremendous homecoming, like the embrace she will receive from the nation. She said: "I just cannot even express the way I feel - it feels like it isn't me and that I am going to wake up in the morning and have to do it all again."

She won't. Her heart and legs have carried her beyond virtually any other name in British athletic history to a plinth all of her own. She deserves to keep that smile for a long time.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness