Athletics: Holmes loses with smile as cruise control misfires

Something unusual happened in the Olympic Stadium here yesterday - Kelly Holmes lost a race and broke into a radiant smile. But then you can do that kind of thing when you are a double Olympic champion.

Something unusual happened in the Olympic Stadium here yesterday - Kelly Holmes lost a race and broke into a radiant smile. But then you can do that kind of thing when you are a double Olympic champion.

It was not that the 34-year-old lacked for effort in her first race since her 800 and 1500 metres double in Athens. That is contrary to her nature.

But as Tatyana Tomashova - silver medallist behind her in last month's metric mile - regained the lead 30m from the line in the concluding IAAF Golden League meeting of the season, Holmes could not find the drive that had propelled her in Athens, finishing eight hundredths of a second behind the Russian in 4min 04.49sec.

"If I'd come last, it would have been 'Oh God'," Holmes said. "I tried hard, but I probably didn't have the desire at the finish that Tomashova did. I have been training, but the preparation hasn't been fantastic for an international athlete, what with all the late nights and driving around since I got back."

Holmes was asked recently, while visiting her old school, what she had given up to succeed. "My life," she said. "Being an international athlete is difficult. It's not a glamorous life." The former Army sergeant may be no closer to getting her life back, but there is a new-found glamour in her daily routine.

For the most successful British woman athlete in Olympic history, there has been a predictable whirl of parties, visits and endorsements, including an appearance on Michael Parkinson's chat show, where she was solemnly described as an "inspiration" by a small American called Tom Cruise, who has had some success in the movie business.

Cruise even asked her to attend his latest film première, but she had to turn him down. "I only had about five minutes to spare and I had nothing to wear," she explained yesterday.

Never mind. She's got the Saturday Children's TV version of Top of The Pops next weekend, and a midweek appearance on the ITV chat show Loose Women.

How long she will remain in that state is unclear, although she hinted at it here. "I've got a chance to enjoy my running for another year or so after struggling around the circuit for so many seasons," she said.

Holmes' return to competition took place on a vivid blue track at the centre of a deep bowl of an arena that has gained a roof and a major revamp ahead of the football World Cup finals that take place here in 2006.

Had she needed any reminder of her achievement last month, she had only to look over to the open end of the stadium behind the final bend, where the Olympic flame first lit to open the 1936 Games flickered and guttered in its broad bowl.

Her performance was witnessed by a crowd of 60,155 - mighty by athletics standards, although 20,000 short of the number who thronged the streets of Tonbridge, in Kent, to welcome her home from Greece as she made a bus-top tour.

"I will never, ever better what I've done in Athens," she said. "At the end of the day, this doesn't matter."

Such was not the case, however, for Sweden's Christian Olsson and Tonique Williams-Darling of the Bahamas, who ensured equal shares of the $1m (£569,000) jackpot on offer to athletes unbeaten in their events at all six Golden League meetings. Williams-Darling won the 400m in 49.07sec, and Olsson took the triple jump with an effort of 17.45 metres.

"I'm a very greedy person," Olsson joked. "But I've never had half a million dollars before and I will be happy with that."

Holmes' financial gains from the meeting were of a far lower order - probably in the region of $50,000 (£27,800) - but as her face, smoothed with happiness, continues to show the world, she has already earned riches beyond measure.

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