Kelly Holmes was deep in the bowels of the National Indoor Arena late on Saturday afternoon, still a dame and a double Olympic gold medallist but with one honour less to her name. So how did it feel, the Olympic 800m and 1500m champion of 2004 was asked, to lose her British indoor 800m record to Jenny Meadows? "It's great to see Jenny doing so well," Dame Kelly replied. "With the level playing field that it's becoming now at 800m and 1500m, the good athletes who are dedicated, committed, train hard, and have got the natural ability, are going to come through."
It was a telling observation from the retired queen of British middle distance running. On the form Meadows displayed in the Aviva Grand Prix on Saturday – breaking Holmes' seven-year-old national indoor mark by a tenth of a second with a winning time of 1min 59.11sec – the burgeoning British star of the winter season will go to the World Indoor Championships, which open in Doha on 12 March, as a strong contender not just for an 800m medal but for the gold. World Indoor gold was one prize that eluded Holmes – the best she managed at the World Indoor Championships was silver in the 1500m final on the National Indoor Arena track in March 2003. She was beaten by the American Regina Jacobs, who three months later tested positive for Tetrahydrogestrinone, the designer steroid also known as THG.
Thanks to the Kent on Sunday newspaper, a campaign is underway to bring about retrospective justice and have Dame Kelly upgraded to World Indoor gold. There could be other battles waged on behalf of the Kentish woman. In her time chasing medals on the international stage, she had to contend with a host of rivals who were ultimately unmasked as drugs cheats: Jolanda Ceplak, Sureyya Ayhan and Olga Yegorova, to name but three. The fight in the women's middle distance arena has become much more of an even battle since Yegorova and Yelena Soboleva – winner of the 1500m in world record time at the last World Indoor Championships, in Valencia two years ago – were among seven Russian athletes caught using fake urine samples in drug tests on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.
It just so happens that Meadows is sandwiched between two Russians in the top three of the world rankings – behind Yevgeniya Zinurova, who leads the way with 1:58.65, and ahead of Mariya Savinova, who has clocked 1:59.23. Clearly, though, there is more to come from the 28-year-old Briton. After pacemaker Danielle Christmas dropped out shortly after the halfway mark on Saturday, Meadows had no one pushing her as she chased the clock. Yuliya Krevsun, the Ukrainian she beat in the sprint for the 800m bronze medal at the outdoor World Championships in Berlin last summer, finished a second and a quarter behind as runner-up.
As Holmes noted, Meadows has gained a notable measure of self-assurance since making the podium in Berlin. "Jenny's got that belief now," she said. "I think what she did at the World Championships has given her the confidence to believe she can be as good as – if not, better than – the rest of the world."
Not that the self-effacing Meadows could quite believe she had bettered the best indoor performance of the woman who inspired her to become an 800m runner. "I knew I was in good shape," she reflected. "But then you look at the record – someone like Dame Kelly Holmes owns it - and you think, 'I've got no right to target that'. I feel very, very honoured and thrilled to have got it."