Athletics / World Athletics Championships: Corporal Holmes in with late run: High hopes for Great Britain in the women's 800m: Duncan Mackay meets the latest woman to run in the fading footprints of the great Ann Packer

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The Independent Online
KELLY HOLMES resurrected her career only 12 months ago, but already her performances this year have marked her out as the most exciting talent in British women's middle-distance running for years.

With less than a full international season behind her, the 23-year-old PTI Corporal Holmes has risen rapidly through the ranks to fifth on the UK all-time 800 metres list with a personal best of 1min 59.13sec, and has made a big impact on the domestic and international circuit with victories in the Inter-Counties, British and AAA Championships, and Grand Prixs in Stockholm and London.

She goes into the World Championships as an outside bet for a medal in an event where Britain has been struggling to find a worthy successor to former Olympic champion, Ann Packer, for nearly 30 years. Stuttgart will be Holmes' senior debut in a Great Britain vest, but she does not lack confidence in her own ability. 'I won't be happy with anything less than reaching the final,' she said. 'There's no point going if I don't achieve that.'

It was watching the Olympics on television a year ago - when none of Britain's three representatives reached the 800m final - that persuaded Holmes to throw herself back into the promising athletics career she abandoned as an 18-year-old in 1988 when she joined the army. 'It was seeing athletes like Lisa York, who I used to run against when I was a youngster, doing so well in Barcelona that inspired me to get off my backside and start training hard again,' Holmes said.

Teenage wastage is a huge problem in athletics. Every year, people who will never be heard of again win English schools' titles. Holmes won three, the last in 1987 at Birmingham in the senior girls' 1500m when York finished fifth. 'The talent was always there so I'm not surprised at what I have achieved,' she said.

What is surprising is the speed with which she has achieved it, knocking four seconds off the time she ran at the end of last season. Two minutes has always been a huge psychological barrier for Britain's women. Packer's winning time in the 1964 Olympics of 2:01.1 would still have ranked her in the top five in Britain in 1992. 'There have always been people in Britain with the ability but they set their sights too low,' Holmes said.

The 800m is an event where the worldwide crackdown on drugs has had a dramatic effect and means British athletes should now be capable of challenging the rest of the world. The world record of 1:53.28, set by Czechoslovakia's Jarmila Kratochvilova 10 years ago, looks unbeatable and anyone who can run inside 1:57 for the distance these days is not going to be far away when the medals are handed out. Holmes is approaching that type of time as she rapidly closes in on Kirsty Wade's eight-year-old UK record of 1:57.42.

Holmes' greatest strength is her strength. At 5ft 4in tall she weighs 8st 8lb, most of it pure muscle. When she powers down the home straight, her arms pumping furiously, she gives the impression of tearing a jungle undergrowth out of her way. That strength comes from working out with weights in training, from the days she spends taking gym classes and her period as the army's No 1 judo player. 'That's what a lot of women lack,' Holmes said. 'People don't think strength comes into it, but I've been working on my upper body strength throughout the year.'

As a working PTI, instructing mainly male soldiers, no concessions are made to Holmes' athletics career and she is expected to perform normal duties. But she does not plan to ask for any privileges. 'When I first started training I used to get tired, but I wouldn't change it now I've got used to it,' she said. 'It's all good strength work for me.' However, she has given up judo and playing volleyball for the army to concentrate on her athletics.

Training has been easier for Holmes since January, when she was posted from York to Beaconsfield. It means she can see her coach, Wes Duncan, three times a week and plan her work-outs properly. She has no regrets about the years she missed in the sport. 'It has done me really good. When I was younger I saw a lot of promising athletes who trained too much too early and got injured. But I've come back not only stronger but more determined.'

(Photograph omitted)

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