Athletics: Holmes hobbles through the pain barrier again

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The Independent Online

Having spent the past 13 summers as a wounded soldier on the international circuit, battling as many injuries as opponents, it seems only fitting that the former Sergeant Holmes PTI should end her tour of track-and-field duty - on the home front, at least - by fighting against not one physical ailment but two together.

"I have nerve damage down the side of my Achilles tendon and a 2cm cyst in front of it," the double Olympic champ-ion said, explaining the handicap she will take with her into the 800m in the Norwich Union British Grand Prix today.

Holmes has not yet ruled out going for one last gold at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March, but - with a right Achilles still too painful to touch after 11 weeks of treatment, part of it at the Munich clinic of Dr Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, sometime therapist of Luciano Pavarotti - the chances are that the not-so-fat lady will be singing her last today.

"To be honest, it's a lot worse than people think," she confessed. "It's been like hell, in terms of the pain. I'm only running because I made a commitment to myself and to the public that this would be my last race on British soil.

"I am very much on the fine line between hobbling off the track and finishing the race. I'm running on one-and-a-half legs and I'm only 50 per cent ready.

"I really don't know how my leg's going to hold up. I've literally only run farther than 200m on the track for the first time today [Friday]. But I will guarantee that I will cross the line and I guarantee that I will give it my best shot."

If the half-fit Holmes manages to cross the line first, it will not only raise the Don Valley roof but also rank as another Herculean feat by the Kentish woman. If not (and Susan Scott, a semi-finalist at the World Championships in Helsinki, is likely to pose a considerable threat), then it will hardly diminish a career which peaked in Athens one year ago this coming week.

As Holmes reflected: "I would rather have these problems this year than last year. Last year I got more than I ever wanted. I could never get any better than these two medals."

Twelve months on, Holmes still clutches her Olympic golds - one from the 800m, one from the 1500m - with some bewilderment. "If I think about it, I still can't believe I did it," she pondered.

The sense of disbelief is compounded by a reminder of her breakthrough 1500m victory in Sheffield, against Yvonne Murray in the UK Championships of 1994 (three years before she returned to the Don Valley track to break Zola Budd's British record for the distance). "If I'd thought back then, in 1994, that I'd be winning the ultimate medal 10 years later, at the age of 34, I wouldn't have believed that either," she said.

It was, nevertheless, unwavering self-belief and dogged determination that got Holmes to her twin Olympian peaks. On Friday afternoon, it was clear to see her inspiration reflected in the faces of the children gathered outside the Meadowhall Shopping Centre to run and jump on the Sheffield leg of the Norwich Union "Go... Get Active Tour".

The principal patrons of British athletics are also backing the "On Camp With Kelly" programme that has involved Holmes mentoring and grooming eight teenage middle-distance runners - a scheme she is keen for UK Athletics to embrace as "a blueprint for all events" in the wake of the underwhelming showing at the World Championships.

Dame Kelly's Campers will get the chance to show their potential in two special races this afternoon. The feature race, however, is the last race on the programme - the last home run for Kelly Holmes, one British athlete who has yet to be beaten in 2005. With two wins out of two indoors and one out of one outdoors, the female tough of the track will have to overcome her Achilles heel, as well as her opponents, if she is to finish with her uneaten record safely intact.