An email conversation with Kelly Holmes: 'I am more relaxed in retirement. It's really nice to be normal again'

Overcoming injury and depression to win gold; What might have been if I'd stayed in the Army; Meeting Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman and Pele; Getting my skates on with Torvill and Dean


Do you feel retired now? What's the difference? Even though I'm busy, I'm a lot more relaxed. I'm giving myself a big break. It's an odd feeling. It's the first time since I was 12 when I haven't had to do something. It was just the same when I was in the Army. It's really nice to be normal.

How long can you stay normal? I hope for quite a long time! Eventually, I suppose, I will get back into training, but I will have to do it with other people so that it stays enjoyable. I have to get away from the old feeling of training.

Will you feel a pang when you watch the Commonwealth Games in March? I will be taking four or five of young athletes I mentor over to Melbourne during the Games with the assistance of Norwich Union. We will be over there training with some Australian athletes. I'm not really a big person to go and watch stuff because that's what I used to do myself, but I'm sure we'll get over to the stadium to see some of the athletics.

What music do you like? I listen to all kinds of stuff - soul, R'n'B, pop... I was on Desert Island Discs recently and I had to make my list then. In the past, especially during work-outs, I have listened to people like Tina Turner. Most recently I've been listening to Kelly Clarkson, the Pop Idol girl. She's quite rocky.

You must have worn your two Olympic gold medals for so long you are in danger of falling backwards when you take them off. Will the novelty of them ever wear thin? No. They are going to be travelling with me for a long time to come. Every time I meet people they always want to talk about the Olympics, and it has been great to let so many of them see what all the work was for.

What was the lowest point of your career? There were two. The first was in 1997 when I was favourite to win the world 1500m title and I ruptured my Achilles during the opening heat. And the second was in 2003 when I had depression and began to self-harm.

What did you think of the poem your physio Ger Hartmann sent you a few years ago? Ger has been with me since the hardest time of my career, after I broke down during the 1997 World Championships. I haven't got the poem with me right now, but I remember what it was about - "so stick to the fight when you are hardest hit, it's when things seem worst that you must never quit". Ger has been so brilliant in motivating me. He's always had confidence in me, and he's given me confidence in myself. He's just got that vibe. And he was very kind to me recently when I was hit hard by the death of his friend Tim O'Brien, whom I met this year. He has sent me some other poems and been very supportive. He is quite religious.

Who have you been most thrilled to meet post-Olympics? Who has your mum been most thrilled about? There have been so many people I have met since Athens - Tom Cruise, Elton John, Barbara Windsor, Martina Navratilova. I met Morgan Freeman at the Laureus Sports Awards, and he was exactly as I thought he would be - very grey hair, very witty. I met Pele at the BBC Sports Personality Awards the other day. It is always great to meet sportsmen and women who have achieved, because you know all about the hard work and perseverance that takes. My mum is always going on at me for not telling her about things. She'll say, "You didn't tell me you met them! I have to read about it in the paper!" I forget to tell her about everything because I'm doing so many things. I think she'd love to meet some of the people herself.

Which athlete were you most glad to beat? I didn't think about beating people. I was just thinking about where I would come in the race.

What's your favourite film? I keep on watching Finding Nemo. I watched it before the Olympics, and I'm watching it now. I know I should be watching more grown-up films, but...

Star signs. Rubbish - or illuminating? I read them, and if they seem relevant I believe them, and if they don't I say they are a load of rubbish. I think some of the star sign traits have something in them. I'm an Aries. They are supposed to be stubborn and determined.

What would you have been if you hadn't been an athlete? I would have stayed in the Army. I thought I was going to be there for 22 years when I joined. I would have been an officer by now, definitely.

Of what are you most proud outside athletics? Being in the Army. I believe I put everything I could into it. I'm also proud of the way I have handled myself in different situations. I don't think I have let the Olympic success change me from the person I am.

Has success made you nicer, do you think? Yes it has! Because I've got no pressure on me now. When you are an athlete you are stressed all the time. People might see a different side of me now. When you are competing the pressure to perform is so ingrained in you that you think about it all the time. You have to be aware of everything you do. You don't ever really relax, because even when you aren't doing anything you are thinking about your next training session and what you need to do. Now I don't have to think about that. Ever since the Olympics it has been a lot better. I might get a little bit grumpy now if I've got a lot on, but I can properly relax for the first time in ages. That's what I like about retirement.

If you could give advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be? The best advice I could give would probably be not to let it deter you when things go wrong. And that you don't have to stick to one person all the time - it's OK to go out and try to find someone who makes a real difference to you. You have to move on.

Ger Hartmann reckoned you did one session too many before your final race at Sheffield in September, where you finished at a limp. Were you still overtraining, even as double Olympic champion? I don't think it was one session too many. I was in pain during all the sessions when I was trying to recover from my Achilles injury, and during the race itself. I don't think of it in terms of a defeat - it was just getting round that mattered, but I was in agony the whole way. Ger couldn't believe I wanted to do it. A lot of people told me I should just be on the side of the track and wave. But I didn't want to finish like that.

What would you like for Christmas? I would like a pair of roller boots, so I can practise my ice skating.

Are you going to be looking good when the celebrity ice skating programme you are recording at the moment goes out on TV? How are things going under Torvill and Dean? Not too bad. They were quite pleased with me at the last session.

You have a DVD coming out - Kelly Holmes, First Steps to Fitness, £17.99 if I remember correctly... It's aimed at people who have never done anything, or who are just starting out. A lot of people, particularly women, say they want to do exercise to keep fit but they don't know where to start. It's not meant to give you a stomach like mine. I'll be doing a more hard-core DVD next year.

Paul Radcliffe said recently that she was taking inspiration for the 2008 Beijing Games from the way you came back from adversity to win Olympic titles. What is your reaction? It's nice. I was having great success in Athens and things weren't going well for her. Paula is a great athlete, and she has had some difficult times to go through, which I know about as well as anyone.

You must have signed a million autographs since Athens. Have any requests particularly touched you? More like five million! I've had letters from people of all ages and from all walks of life. When someone takes the trouble to write to you and say they have been depressed, or self-harmed, and that seeing my story encouraged them to make their own lives better it is an incredible feeling. It is hard to believe you could have made that difference.

Which three words sum up your character? Determined. Honest. Ambitious.

Attachment: The Kelly Holmes lowdown

* 1970 Born 19 April in Kent.

* 1983 Winner of English Schools' 1500m title.

* 1987 Joins Army.

* 1992 Returns to athletics.

* 1993 Runs 800m in under two minutes for first time. World Championships semi-finalist.

* 1994 European 1500m silver. Commonwealth 1500m gold.

* 1995 World Championships 800m bronze, 1500m silver.

* 1996 Running with stress fracture, finishes fourth in Olympic 800m, 11th in 1500m.

* 1997 Sets UK 1500m record. Ruptures Achilles in first heat of World Championships .

* 1998 Commonwealth 1500m silver.

* 1999 World Championships 800m semi-finals.

* 2000 Wins Olympic 800m bronze. "It's worth gold to me."

* 2001 Finishes sixth in 800m at World Championships.

* 2002 Regains Commonwealth 1500m title. European Championships 800m bronze.

* 2003 Wins 1500m silver at World Indoors. World Championships 800m silver.

* 2004 Wins Olympic 800m and 1500m gold. BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Created a Dame.

* 2005 Limps home ninth in final track appearance at Sheffield.

6 Dec: Announces retirement.

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