Athletics: Holmes wins respect and hits back at critics

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The Independent Online

At least one leading lady of British athletics gained the credit due to her here on the Cote d'Azur yesterday.

While the absent Paula Radcliffe lost out on the women's World Athlete of the Year prize - presented by the Monaguasque Prince Albert at the International Association of Athletics Federations' Annual Gala Dinner last night - despite having set her fourth world best time in 11 months back home in Hyde Park yesterday morning, Kelly Holmes succeeded in her quest for respect in the Stade Louis II.

The one-time Army judo champion lined up for the 800m in the the end-of-season IAAF World Athletics Finals determined to prove a point, her silver medal-winning run at the World Championships in Paris last month having been achieved, in the eyes of several critics, by hanging on to the protective coat-tails of her training-partner and house-mate, Maria Mutola.

Yesterday, Holmes picked a detached path to second place, and $20,000 (£12,563) in prize money, behind her peerless Mozambiquan pal.

While Mutola strode to an unchallenged victory in 1min 59.59sec, leading virtually from gun to tape, Holmes hung back in the pack, lying seventh at the bell and fifth as she entered the home straight, before surging through on the outside to snatch the runners-up spot from Amina Ait Hammou of Morocco in 1min 59.92sec. There was no holding back, though, as Holmes proceeded to round on her detractors.

"People are kicking me in the teeth," she complained. "I've won two medals at World Championships this year, one indoors and one outdoors. But whatever I do is not good enough. No one gives me the respect that I deserve."

It was a fair enough comment. Since moving from Kent last winter to train with Mutola in Johannesburg, the 33-year-old has reinforced her standing among the global elite with a 1500m silver medal at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham in March and with the 800m silver she won at the outdoor World Championships.

Holmes was not the only female British middle distance runner to distinguish herself in Monaco. Hayley Tullett finished third in Saturday's 1500m, a place ahead of Jo Pavey, who finished third in the 3000m yesterday, clocking 8min 37.89sec and taking her weekend's earnings to $19,000 (£11,935).

At the very least, Radcliffe ought to have been in the running for the Athlete of the Year award and the $100,000 (£62,818) cheque that went with it. The IAAF, however, dropped the voting system that resulted in her receiving the honour last year in favour of a convoluted points-scoring system that preculded performances in road races - such as the world best 5km time that the Briton established yesterday and the world bests she has set in the marathon (twice) and at 10km.

The title and the money went instead to the South African high-jumper Hestrie Cloete. They might have been scooped by Kelli White, but she needed to win the 100m in 10.77sec yesterday to overtake Cloete at the top of the points table and the Californian finished fourth in 11.08sec. She appeared to get caught sleeping in her starting blocks, which would rather support her claim that the Modafinil found in her urine sample at the World Championships came from medication she had taken for narcolepsy.

White is not the only American athlete facing an IAAF ban pending an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency into a positive test for Modafinil at the World Championships. Chris Phillips, who finished fifth in the 110m hurdles in Paris and in Monaco on Saturday, is also under scrutiny, traces of the same stimulant having been detected in a urine sample he gave in the French capital.

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