Athletics: Holmes finds Ayhan is back to her best

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The Independent Online

With Kelly Holmes, the words "rock" and "hard place" spring to mind. Having chosen to take on Maria Mutola, the invincible force of 800m running, at the World Championships in Paris last month, the leading lady of British women's middle-distance running has announced her intention to challenge for gold at 1500m at the Athens Olympics next summer.

That would seem even more of a mission impossible were it not that Sureyya Ayhan, the Turk who has threatened to take as firm a stranglehold on the metric mile as Mutola has on the half-mile, showed herself to be a mere mortal in the World Championships final three weeks ago. At the European Championships in Munich last year and on the European circuit this summer, Ayhan has been untouchable with her relentless front-running tactic. In Paris, though, she was unable to stay clear of Tatyana Toma-shova and was beaten by the Russian in the home straight.

It was the upset of the championships. Only two weeks earlier, in Zurich, Ayhan had run 3min 55.60sec, the fastest 1500m time by a woman for six years and a performance that persuaded Holmes to make her late switch to the 800m in Paris. But Ayhan, it transpired, had simply been a victim of unfortunate timing. She had been suffering from menstrual cramps. In Brussels a week later she ran 3:55.33, and in Monaco last weekend she beat Tomashova by five seconds. "Now people can see who is the real world champion," she said. "In Athens I will leave the rest far behind me."

On Newcastle's Quayside yesterday Ayhan did just that, forging clear from the start of the Bupa Great North Mile and finishing a comfortable 1.7sec clear of the fast-finishing Holmes in 4:30.7. There was British success in the men's mile, Mike East winning in a course-record 4:03.8.

Ayhan prevailed despite having arrived on Tyneside in the early hours after struggling to get a visa for her coach and partner, Yucel Kop. The closeness of Holmes's bond with Mutola might have come in for some scrutiny in Paris, after the Briton's Mozambican housemate and training partner helped to smooth her path to the 800m silver, but the 25-year-old Ayhan's relationship with Kop, a married man 22 years older, has become a cause célèbre in Turkey since she said last year that they had been "together" since she was 13. The matter was raised in parliament, and eyebrows remain disapprovingly raised.