Athletics: Holmes aiming to cap golden year

For Kelly Holmes, the champagne corks will finally start popping when she crosses the finish line at the end of the BUPA Great North Mile on Newcastle's Quayside this afternoon. For Jon Brown, even if he reached the finish line first in the 13.1 mile Great North Run tomorrow, the celebrations would probably still be as flat as a Dutch landscape.

For Kelly Holmes, the champagne corks will finally start popping when she crosses the finish line at the end of the BUPA Great North Mile on Newcastle's Quayside this afternoon. For Jon Brown, even if he reached the finish line first in the 13.1 mile Great North Run tomorrow, the celebrations would probably still be as flat as a Dutch landscape.

Brown is, by nature, a quiet, contemplative soul. When not pounding the roads and trails around his adopted home in Victoria, Canada, he likes to head to the wilds of British Colombia for a spot of bird watching. If he looked even more wistful than usual yesterday, it was entirely understandable.

Sitting in the restaurant of the Baltic arts centre overlooking Tyneside's Millennium Bridge, he listened to Holmes talk about "exceeding her wildest dreams" by completing her momentous Olympic middle distance double, about her whirlwind of celebrity functions since returning from Athens, and about the celebratory night on the Toon she had planned with her family and friends after completing her racing schedule for the year on the opposite bank of the Tyne.

For Brown, there is nothing to celebrate on Tyneside - nothing tangible, at any rate. Unlike Holmes, he has no Olympic medals from Athens - just the painful memory of fourth place in the marathon, to go alongside precisely the same recollection from Sydney four years previously. "If someone had told me before Athens that I would finish fourth I would have thought, 'Great!'," Brown mused. "When I did come fourth initially I was very disappointed. But on reflection it was a fair result. I was beaten by three better guys on the day. That's how it is."

Although born in Bridgend, and a Canadian resident for eight years now, Brown was raised as a Yorkshireman. The natural pragmatism is helping as the 33-year-old pride of Sheffield Athletics Club looks to the future - towards the World Cross Country Championships next March, at St Galmier in France, and the marathon at next summer's World Championships in Helsinki.

It would also help if Brown were to become the first British man to win the Great North Run since Steve Kenyon in 1985. Just four weeks after his exertions on the road from Marathon to the Panathinaiko Stadium, however, there must be a question mark about the freshness of his legs, if not the keenness of his competitive appetite.

The South African Hendrick Ramaala, the winner on Tyneside last year, will start as favourite. He dropped out of the Olympic marathon after 12 miles, suffering from a hamstring pull, but proved his fitness and form by winning the Dam to Dam 10-mile race in Amsterdam last Sunday in 45 minutes 59 seconds.

Holmes starts favourite in the women's Great North Mile, her first race on British soil since the completion of her Olympic double a month ago. "I feel I have to win," she maintained yesterday. "It would just complete everything for me.

"I've got all my family and friends coming up from Kent, 15 of them in a coach. We're all going out to celebrate after the race, because I haven't had a chance to do that yet. It'll be a messy night. I don't drink but I think I will be tomorrow night. I'm so busy I've only managed to find a four-day gap in my schedule for a holiday. I've just got so much going on."

Hangover providing, Holmes will fire the starting gun to set the 40,000 Great North runners on their way from Newcastle to South Shields tomorrow morning - then head off to London for the Celebrity Television Awards. Would she be presenting the prizes, then? "No, I'm getting one, apparently," the golden girl confided.

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