Kelly Holmes has been a world-class runner for a decade, but, at 33 years old, she maintains that her competition nerves are as bad as ever; if not worse.
The woman who has earned Olympic bronze, European and world silver and Commonwealth gold medals has good reason to feel on edge as she toes the line in the 1500 metres today at the 10th World Indoor Championships in Hungary. She will not say it herself, but this competition represents an outstanding opportunity for her to confirm her perennial status with a first global title.
That confirmation appeared all but certain in Athens seven years ago, when Holmes was an overwhelming favourite for the world title before suffering a traumatic calf injury halfway through her opening heat.
Trauma has been a constant companion in the former British Army PT instructor's life. But in the past couple of years, having established a new routine of training in South Africa alongside her friend Maria Mutola - the world and Olympic 800m champion - Holmes has garnered some of the big rewards her ability merits, and now she appears to have a chance of another title in the relatively unfamiliar environment of the indoor arena.
Holmes earned a world indoor silver at her first attempt in Birmingham last season, finishing behind US runner Regina Jacobs, who, later in the year, became one of five athletes to test positive for the steroid tetrahydrogestrinone.
That Jacobs - who is suspended, pending a hearing - faces a two-year ban from the time she tested positive has angered the British runner. Yesterday, Holmes, reluctant to say whether she would be inspired by a lingering sense of injustice about last year's event, did reiterate her claim of last month that the gold medal "should have been hers". She said: "It's just my personal opinion, but I believe any athlete testing positive should have any medals from that year taken away from them, regardless of when the test took place." But the rules say otherwise and Holmes is now obliged to achieve justice by other means. Despite a winter of training which, for her, has been blissfully without upset, she remains sensibly cautious about the task facing her.
"Don't underestimate my opponents," she said. "I'm by no means the favourite in my event. There have been some good performances this season from other runners, and a lot of people always come out of the woodwork at championships." The former category includes Alesya Turova of Belarus, who has a 4:04.42 clocking to her credit this season, home runner Judit Varga, who has a best of 4:06.04, and the woman whom Holmes is labelling the pre-race favourite, Ethiopia's Kutre Dulecha, who recorded an African record of 4:01.90 in Karlsruhe last month.
But the British runner arrives full of confidence after her 1,000 metres victory in a European record of 2:32.96 at last month's Norwich Union Grand Prix in Birmingham, where the feel-good factor was duly delivered in front of a capacity home crowd. It is within the power of this remarkable athlete to deliver a similar charge to British pride in the Budapest Sportsarena tomorrow evening.Reuse content