Athletics: Holmes takes lap of honour with farewell in middle distance

Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium will host the last race on home soil of double the Olympic gold medallist tomorrow. Mike Rowbottom reports
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The Independent Online

The double Olympic champion has always been cagey about her intentions during the 12 years she has operated at world-class level, and even though retirement looms large on her horizon, she has not been prepared to say whether these two laps of the Sheffield track in front of an adoring audience likely to number 15,000 will be her final competitive foray.

Two months ago she announced that she would go no further than the Commonwealth Games which take place in Melbourne seven months from now. But, given that she will be running at less than full fitness after eight weeks of fervent effort to allay the effects of an Achilles tendon injury, it is hard to see her embracing a final winter of slog in order to challenge for a title she has won twice before, and which ranks far below her Athens triumphs.

The Kent athlete, who has not raced since winning a 1500m in Glasgow two months ago, has been receiving intensive treatment from Dr Hans Muller-Wolfhart in Germany and from Paula Radcliffe's physical therapist Gerard Hartmann in Ireland to ensure she is fit to race against a largely domestic field, which includes the Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton, the former world bronze 1500m medallist Hayley Tullett and Susan Scott, who ran a season's best in Helsinki last week.

"I haven't been able to put on spikes at all during my few training sessions and given the occasion, I would want to be in much better condition for the race. I have to be honest and say not to expect too much from me."

Holmes insists, however, that the Commonwealth Games are still in her sights. "I haven't finished. I'm not retiring after Sunday - yet. Athletics is still part of my life."

Since Holmes returned to top-class competition in 1993, having left a sport where she had excelled as a junior in order to follow a career in the Army, no athlete has ever dedicated their life to their sport so completely.

But since her startling success last summer, Holmes - who is now officially a veteran at the age of 35 - has embraced a brave new world of opportunities, and the past 12 months have been a blur of awards, most notably when she was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and appearances.

For the first time in her career, her energies have been divided, and she is actively planning for a future media career. To all intents and purposes, her career finished as she crossed the line in the Olympic 1500m, thus completing a double that no Briton - not Seb Coe, not Steve Ovett, not Steve Cram - had managed since Albert Hill, a 31-year-old First World War veteran, won two titles in the 1920 Antwerp Games.

In a meeting that has traditionally served as a "fly-past" of British medallists following major competitions, she will be a relative rarity. The only individual champion, indeed the only individual medallist from Helsinki, Paula Radcliffe, will not be present. And of the two relay teams who earned bronze - in the men's 4x100m and the women's 4x400m - only five athletes will be present. Jason Gardener and Marlon Devonish will take part in the 100m, with Devonish doubling in a 200m that includes the Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin.

Donna Fraser, Lee McConnell and Christine Ohuruogu will compete in a stringent 400m event that includes the gold and silver medallists from Helsinki, Tonique Williams-Darling, of the Bahamas and Sanya Richards of the United States.

Altogether, there will be 43 medallists from Helsinki on show, including the 110m hurdles champion Ladji Doucouré, long jump champion Dwight Phillips, 200m winner Allyson Felix and 100m winner Lauryn Williams, as well as Tirunesh Dibaba, who became the first athlete to win the world 5,000m and 10,000m double.

Sweden's world high jump champion, Kajsa Bergkvist, will also be present, which will offer an ideal opportunity for Sheffield's Jessica Ennis, the European junior heptathlon champion who has just set a British junior record of 5,910 points en route to the bronze medal at the World University Games in Turkey, to measure her ambitions.