Athletics: Holmes tries to keep fire burning for track return

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Kelly Holmes returns to a British track today for the first time since her Olympic triumphs - although to call it her first British appearance would hardly be appropriate. Since winning 800 and 1500 metres gold in Athens five months ago, the 34-year-old former Army sergeant has collected a succession of titles in the public arena.

Kelly Holmes returns to a British track today for the first time since her Olympic triumphs - although to call it her first British appearance would hardly be appropriate. Since winning 800 and 1500 metres gold in Athens five months ago, the 34-year-old former Army sergeant has collected a succession of titles in the public arena.

The athlete who will toe the line in this afternoon's Norwich Union International is not only a double Olympic champion. She is Dame Kelly Holmes. She is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. And, as of this week, she is winner of the Best Television Moment of 2004, having received her award from Jonathan Ross following the opening of the all-important envelope by Mr Baywatch himself, David Hasselhoff.

For Holmes, the 1500m at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall will mark a return from the surreal to the real, and she feels she is as ready as she can be for that transition.

"Standing on the line on my home turf is going to be a great buzz," she says. "I'm anticipating a great welcome, which I always have when I come to Glasgow anyway, but I think it means a little more now. For me, it's about standing on the line and being announced as double Olympic champion, feeling good that I can have that title and racing the best I can.

"I need to be competitive and try and win the race. If I happen to lose on the day then I lose to a better person on the day, but I know that I've won my gold medals. The only nerve-racking thing is that I fell in my last race on an indoor track at the World Indoor Championships last March. The last time I was flat on my back, so hopefully that doesn't happen again."

Speaking in South Africa two months ago, Holmes made it clear that though she will continue to give of her best in competition, she did not expect to regain the intensity that earned her Olympic success after 12 years of injury-marred striving. Consequently, she has been reluctant to commit herself to this year's World Championships in Helsinki, and remains undecided about the European Indoor Championships which start on 4 March in Madrid. She maintains she will make up her mind after the Birmingham Grand Prix on 18 February, where she will run the 1,000m.

If Holmes is being circumspect about the forthcoming season, the same cannot be said of another British Olympic champion running in Glasgow today, Jason Gardener.

The 29-year-old sprint relay gold medallist, who earned his first global title at last year's World Indoor Championships, has made Maurice Greene's world 60m record his immediate target.

"The only thing I have not done indoors is break the world record," he said. "And although I originally said it as an off-the-cuff remark, I then thought that was a nice motivation for this season. I enjoy running, I have trained well and I am in good shape so I thought 'why not?' I have not got that many more years in the sport so I am going to make the most of it. I have had some good indications in training and if I look at the indications I have had in previous years, it is a possibility."

Gardener, who will meet Greene in Birmingham, needs to reduce his personal best of 6.46 seconds by 0.08sec to better the mark Greene achieved in 1998 and 2001. That process will get under way with two races in Glasgow, where he starts the programme off in an invitational 60m before competing in the main international match later in the day.

The Bath sprinter has had to deal with his own version of the kind of attention that Holmes has received since Athens, and eventually felt the need to withdraw from the limelight in order to concentrate on his training.

"My life has been very different since Athens," he said. "It was incredible how many requests came through, for all sorts of things, and I think that people must think I had nothing to do with my time. The recent demand which is fresh in my mind was a magazine request, backed by a charity, to be photographed naked. It was just me individually but I politely declined. I don't particularly want to take all my clothes off.

"Some people like doing that for the publicity it brings but I would rather perform well on the track. So come November I had to make a decision to say no to a lot of the requests coming through and really prioritise my time on training."

The results of Gardener's restraint will be put to the test in the opening event of the Glasgow programme, an invitational 60m where he will meet the local runner Nick Smith, a stand-by for the Athens relay squad.

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