Athletics: Holmes coy about future as Olympians fall to earth

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The Independent Online

There were two clear challenges for Kelly Holmes on Saturday as she returned to a British track for the first time since winning double Olympic gold.

There were two clear challenges for Kelly Holmes on Saturday as she returned to a British track for the first time since winning double Olympic gold. The first she managed in 4min 14.74sec, a moderate 1500m time by her own standards, but more than enough to see off the rest of the field in the Norwich Union International. The second took more than half an hour as several hundred youngsters advanced upon her at the end of the meeting bearing programmes, pens and excited smiles.

Holmes has always been popular north of the border, but since her feats in Athens that popularity has transformed into something which has dominated her life. When the bowed, braided head eventually emerged from the starstruck scrum beside the Kelvin Hall track it soon became clear that this Olympian has an even more taxing challenge.

She summed it up, effectively, in a single sentence. "I've got no major goals any more and I've always had goals to keep myself focused on athletics." Living up to expectations on home soil proved enough of a motivation for Holmes in a race where she used all her racing experience to move systematically through the field before breaking into a relieved smile 50 metres from the line.

Holmes has always been an athlete on a mission, and now that her mission has been so handsomely accomplished, the track no longer leads her urgently on. It seems likely that she will take part in the European Indoor Championships in March if her appearance at Birmingham in three weeks' time goes well, but it still seems unlikely that she will put her reputation on the line again at this summer's World Championships in Helsinki.

"I don't know if I've got that extra commitment to championships," she said. "Although I'm a championship runner. Outdoors, probably, I'm swinging the other way. I'm not motivated to go for the World Championships at the moment. But indoors... wait and see."

She smiled for a moment, then added, with the hint of a glint in her eye: "I like races. I don't like training any more." It was like hearing Tiger Woods saying he no longer liked practising his swing.

Training has always been at the centre of Holmes' world since she emerged on the international scene 12 years ago. It has been her remorseless will to push herself that, as she acknowledges, has caused so many of the injuries that have undermined her progress.

Unlike so many other seasons, Holmes - touch wood - is fit and healthy. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for a number of her fellow British Olympians. Jason Gardener, whose profile has also risen dramatically in the wake of his Olympic relay gold medal, negotiated two 60m races efficiently, winning in 6.60 and 6.62sec, but Mark Lewis-Francis - the man who anchored the British quartet to victory in Athens - will almost certainly miss the rest of the indoor season after pulling his hamstring in Saturday's meeting at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena. The former world junior champion collapsed after winning a heat in 6.79sec and had to be carried away on a stretcher.

Jade Johnson, the European and Commonwealth long jump silver medallist, suffered a recurrence of a back injury in Glasgow. Johnson had to be moved to the front row of seats on her flight back to Heathrow on Saturday night so she could stretch out her long legs properly.

Jo Fenn, the world indoor 800m bronze medallist, also seems certain to miss any further involvement on the boards this year because of a knee injury.