Kelly Holmes proved once again last night that, when it comes to the big occasion, she is still a middle-distance runner to be feared even if she sometimes struggles to believe it herself.
After a season disrupted by injury and waning confidence, the 33-year-old Olympic 800m bronze medallist, who revealed afterwards that she had only entered the World Championships an hour before the deadline, added another major silver medal to her collection by producing a characteristically brave run to the front around the final bend that held off every opponent except the woman she has lived and trained with in Johannesburg for the last year, Maria Mutola.
Mozambique's Olympic and world champion was left grimacing with the strain as she passed her house guest in the final 50 metres, finishing in 1min 59.89sec, ahead of Holmes, who recorded 2:00.18 in holding off Russia's Natalya Khrushchelova, bronze medallist in 2:00.29.
Short of winning herself, it was the ideal result for the Briton, who produced the same smile that lit up her face in Sydney three years ago, when she took another surprise medal after an injury-riddled preparation, as she hugged the gold medallist.
After a demoralising 1500 metres defeat in Zurich just over a fortnight ago, when she finished almost 10 seconds adrift of Turkey's Sureyya Ayhan, Holmes gambled on switching to the shorter distance, apparently at the suggestion of Mutola. It was a gamble that paid off, gloriously, doubling Britain's medal quota here in the process.
"I can't believe I've come to these championships in an event I wasn't going to do and hadn't even trained for at all and I've got the silver," Holmes said. "This year, emotionally, psychologically and physically, I have been at my lowest. I didn't think I had the ammunition to perform here and I almost didn't come. But about one hour before the cut-off I just thought, 'Let's just see what happens'."
What happened in the final 200 metres, when Mutola appeared to hang back as Holmes made her break for the line before producing her final, telling acceleration, begged a question about whether the training partners had been running according to a plan.
Holmes, who missed the AAA trials with a calf injury, addressed the matter obliquely. "If there are two people who train together, of course they discuss different situations," she said. "I'm lucky because of who Maria is. She said, 'If this happens, maybe you should do this', and 'If that happens, maybe you should do that'." Not exactly a strategy, more a selection of likely tactics.
"Kelly has had a lot of trouble with injury this year and her spirit was very low and she was struggling for motivation," said Mutola. "It was my job to motivate her and it is great to see her win silver."
Khrushchelyova had a different take on the situation. "I really thought I could get a silver medal when we came to the final straight. But then Mutola obviously helped her friend and I couldn't get past them."
The task become easier after Austria's Steffi Graf, silver medallist at the last World Championships, was forced to pull out of the final after a freak injury caused, according to an IAAF report, by her dropping a full bottle of mineral water on her foot. So much for health products. Graf's disappearance from the fray followed the withdrawal before the opening heats of another of the event's leading performers, Slovenia's world indoor record holder Jolanda Ceplak, because of injury.
Darren Campbell's chances of adding to the bronze medal he won in Monday night's 100 metres have been significantly improved by the announcement that Konstadinos Kederis, the Greek who beat him to the Olympic title three years ago, has scratched from the competition on the eve of today's heats.
Kederis, the defending champion, failed a fitness test on an injury to his leg yesterday, a turn of events that leaves the 200 metres looking as open as the short sprint turned out to be.Reuse content