Athletics: A crying shame for Holmes

World in ruins for Britain's leading gold prospect as the injury she kept secret comes back to haunt her
Kelly Holmes's World Athletics Championships ended in tears here yesterday as a previously undisclosed Achilles tendon injury forced her to abandon her opening 1,500m heat on the final bend. As Derek Redmond had done in similar circumstances at the 1992 Olympics, Britain's golden prospect completed a slow, desolate walk to the line.

While Redmond had had his father's shoulder to lean on in Barcelona, Holmes limped back alone, hands on head, her opponents long gone from the track. There was scarcely a murmur from the sparse early morning crowd. The whole thing seemed unreal.

The 27-year-old Army sergeant had arrived in Athens at midnight, nine hours before her race, after receiving treatment in Munich for an injury incurred while training in Britain two weeks ago. Fourteen hours later she was on her way to Switzerland for further medical attention, her championship ambitions over.

The whole episode formed a wretched sequel to the events of last summer, when Holmes's Olympic hopes were undermined by a stress fracture in the final fortnight of her preparation. Having given serious consideration to retiring, she returned to the track this season more determined than ever to fulfil her potential. Before her fateful training session she had won all 10 of her races, establishing herself at the top of the 1,500m world rankings - by just under five seconds - and second in the 800m.

With her first comment after the race she attempted something of her normal chirpiness. "Same again, eh?" But her face was working hard to hold back tears. "I have never been in such good shape," she said. "I know I'm the best in the world at the moment. That's what really pisses me off. I picked up the injury after my best series of 200m reps ever. I felt some soreness in my heel afterwards. Everything was perfect, then one little thing ... It has been another nightmare preparation."

After treatment in Britain failed to rectify the problem, she flew out on Thursday to see Hans Muller-Wohlfart, the doctor who has treated many of Britain's leading athletes over the years including Linford Christie, Steve Backley and Colin Jackson. "It was a last resort," Holmes said. "But I thought everything was going to be all right before I raced. I felt really good in the warm-up and I thought, 'It's finished'. I was so relieved, because I just wanted to get here in one piece. It's what I've said all year."

Once the race got under way, however, it became apparent that an important piece was missing. Moving up from the back at the bell, Holmes failed to make any impression on the leaders and stopped running 130 metres from the line.

Although her inflamed tendon - in the left foot - was not hurting her, the calf above it had gone into a protective spasm. "I couldn't put any weight on it," she said. "It felt like I had a golf ball in it." As she spoke, her face darkened in frustration. "I think someone has put a curse on me. I wish they'd take it off. But I'll be back - definitely." She hopes to prove a point at the Zurich Grand Prix three days after the end of these championships.

But as the British assistant team manager Lorna Boothe offered her a sympathetic shoulder, Holmes's frustration gave way to tears and she slumped into a chair outside the medical centre with her hands over her face as the cameras whirred. "I felt so strong," she had said as she relived the early part of her race. "I feel so strong." It was the worst possible start for Britain on the opening day.

The situation was compounded by the way in which the British team management dealt with the situation. Malcolm Arnold, Britain's chief coach, admitted yesterday that he had deliberately kept news of Holmes's injury secret at her request. When asked on Friday if the British team were all fit, he replied that all those in Athens were fit and well. True, as Holmes was then in Munich.

But there could be no excuse on the eve of the championships for allowing Holmes to be spoken of unwittingly - both by team captain Roger Black and chief executive-elect Dave Moorcroft - as an outstanding gold medal prospect.

There was other unsettling news yesterday. Britain's Olympic high jump bronze medallist, Steve Smith, finished training on Friday with an ice pack on the troublesome Achilles tendon which forced him to drop out of the British trials. Smith's manager, Vicente Modahl, confirmed that the jumper was still troubled by the problem with his take-off foot. "The pain is there," he said. "But it is not serious at the moment." Britain's No 2 high jumper, Dalton Grant, has had to delay his arrival for tomorrow's qualifying competition because of food poisoning.

Iwan Thomas, Britain's 400m record holder, yesterday dismissed fears that a knee problem would affect his performance in his event, which gets under way today. Thomas was given a boost yesterday when Michael Johnson, the defending champion, mentioned him as the most likely rival to end up on the podium.

Results, page 22