Athletics: Holmes makes final mile the sweetest

She still has the small matter of an open-topped bus parade through the streets of London to negotiate, not to mention the eternal round of end-of-year awards ceremonies. After crossing the finish line on Newcastle's Quayside yesterday afternoon though, Kelly Holmes could finally give her racing feet a rest after a middle-distance campaign that turned into a marathon - a glorious, unforgettable, marathon.

She still has the small matter of an open-topped bus parade through the streets of London to negotiate, not to mention the eternal round of end-of-year awards ceremonies. After crossing the finish line on Newcastle's Quayside yesterday afternoon though, Kelly Holmes could finally give her racing feet a rest after a middle-distance campaign that turned into a marathon - a glorious, unforgettable, marathon.

It started back on 24 January with an indoor 1500m win against Russia and Sweden at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. It finished eight months later with a road mile win on the banks of the Tyne. In her 26th and final race of 2004, Holmes strode to victory in the Bupa Great North Mile. She did so in record time, too, breasting the tape in 4 minutes 28.7 seconds - 4.7sec clear of fellow Briton Helen Clitheroe and two seconds inside the course-best time Sureyya Ayhan of Turkey had set in beating her a year ago.

It was a suitably imperious finale for the pride of Ealing, Southall and Middlesex Athletics Club, who has been transformed, in the course of her annus mirabilis, from a minor medal contender into the undisputed queen of world middle-distance running. At 34, Holmes could hang up her racing shoes for good with her place in the record books assured, as the first female British track and field athlete to win a pair of Olympic gold medals. True to her natural spirit, though, the one-time army judo champion has resolved to fight on.

Her schedule might be crowded with celebrity appearances, but Holmes is already mapping her competitive plans for 2005. "I've never won an international indoor title," she said, with a nod towards the European Indoor Championships in Madrid in March. "And I want to run as much as possible on home turf. I can enjoy my athletics from now on."

As Holmes thanked the 30,000 crowd and headed off for a celebratory night on the Toon, Britain's other individual track and field medal winner from the Athens Olympics was still toiling away on her return to action in France.

Five weeks after her bronze medal heptathlon performance, Kelly Sotherton was in Talence for the opening day of the Decastar multi-events meeting. The Birchfield Harrier picked up where she had left off in Athens, clocking 13.51sec in the 100m hurdles, clearing 1.80m in the high jump, putting 13.05m in the shot and clocking 23.80sec in the 200m.

It left Sotherton leading overnight, with a score of 3,758 points. Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine was second with 3,633 points and the Russian Yelena Prokhorova third with 3,522 points.

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