Athletics: A sprint finish and a smile - Kelly is back

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The Independent Online

There must have been times at which Kelly Holmes was left wondering when it would all come to an end. The glitz. The glamour. All those celebrities. All those forced smiles. Then again, anyone who can get through An Audience With Des O'Connor is surely blessed with inordinate reserves of staying power.

There must have been times at which Kelly Holmes was left wondering when it would all come to an end. The glitz. The glamour. All those celebrities. All those forced smiles. Then again, anyone who can get through An Audience With Des O'Connor is surely blessed with inordinate reserves of staying power.

The Woman of 2004 has that. She has a fair turn of speed, too. Both were in evidence at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow yesterday. After her winter tour of the celebrity circuit and award ceremonies, Dame Kelly was back treading the boards on an indoor track. To the audible relief of the sold-out 3,800 audience - not to mention herself - she did not fluff her lines.

Running in her first race of 2005, her first in a Great Britain vest since the balmy August night when she completed her golden middle-distance double, the rust of four months away from competition was in temporary evidence as Holmes picked her way through from the back of the six-strong pack in the women's 1500m, the showpiece event of the Norwich Union Indoor International. Down the back-straight on the final 200m circuit, Hind Dehiba of France and Svetlana Cherkasova of Russia were both closing threateningly on her heels. But then, with 100m remaining, the golden Dame remembered her Midas touch - and her top gear.

Leaving her rivals stalling in her wake, she surged to an ultimately decisive victory, crossing the finish line in 4min 14.74sec - 0.55sec clear of Dehiba. By the Mount Olympian standards she set for herself in Athens last summer, the time was decidedly pedestrian. The grin that stretched from one ear to the other, though, confirmed that it was mission accomplished for Holmes. She was back on the track and back in the winning groove.

"I'm pleased to get that one out of the way," she confessed. "It's great to get back to racing. It's what I enjoy best. Now I can get back to doing some good races in the rest of the year. I'll be honest: I'm not as fit as I was at the Olympics, by any means. I just didn't want to disgrace myself today. But I felt very good in that last 100m." Still, the Olympic 800m and 1500m champion did not quite feel good enough to commit herself to the European Indoor Championships in Madrid in March. "I'm not making any comment on the future," she said.

The only race on her future schedule is the 1,000m in the Birmingham Grand Prix on 18 February. She will decide after that whether or not to go for gold in Madrid.

Unlike Holmes, Jason Gardener has been anxious to avoid over-exposure since his golden moment in Athens - when he was lead-off man in the gloriously victorious Great Britain 4 x 100m relay team. He has turned down an offer to pose naked for a charity photo-shoot and spurned the chance to become a Blue Peter presenter.

The Bath bullet is determined to build on his quarter-share of Olympic success and make his name in his own right in 2005. He was on target to do that last year, after hitting the bull's-eye of the world indoor 60m title in Budapest, but then underwent a double hernia operation on the eve of the outdoor season. In the circumstances, reaching the 100m semi-finals in Athens and running a storming opening leg in the relay final amounted to a Herculean effort, but Gardener is keen to step-up the momentum in the 2005 indoor season - targeting his own European 60m record (6.46sec) and Maurice Greene's world record (6.39sec), as well as a successful defence of his European indoor title.

With such lofty goals in mind, the West Country man took on a double shift yesterday, winning the invitation 60m in 6.61sec, then overcoming a somewhat hesitant start, just 40 minutes later, to win the match race in 6.63sec. "As you can see, I'm strong at the moment," Gardener said. "I just need races to get that little bit of quickness into my legs. It's been a good day's work, but I'm not super race-fit yet."

It was not such a good day for the speed merchant who anchored the relay team to gold in Athens. Running in the Midland Open Meeting at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, Mark LewisFrancis won his heat in 6.79sec, before crashing to the ground and being carried away on a stretcher. Unlike the Olympic gold medallists on Great Britain team duty in Scotland, MLF MBE - as he has been known since the announcement of the Queen's New Year's Honours - is in an acutely hamstrung state.

There was also one notable British casualty in Glasgow. Jade Johnson was carried out of the arena after her last-round effort in the long jump. In addition to her unfortunate allergy to sand, the Herne Hill Harrier has added a sore back and an injured ankle to her list of ailments.

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