Sports Personality of the Year: Holmes trips the limelight fantastic

For one year, she was in the shape of her life. Nick Townsend salutes tonight's TV heroine

Before, she had been just a familiar face in the chorus line of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year* awards, as the studio lights picked out the new millennium victors - Sir Steve Redgrave, David Beckham, Paula Radcliffe and Jonny Wilkinson - and others down the years.

Before, she had been just a familiar face in the chorus line of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year* awards, as the studio lights picked out the new millennium victors - Sir Steve Redgrave, David Beckham, Paula Radcliffe and Jonny Wilkinson - and others down the years.

Until Athens, Kelly Holmes never dared to imagine a summer in which she would transcend all expectation, her own included, a summer which could propel her to the forefront of public affection. But then, as the double Athens gold medallist concedes: "I achieved what I did because, for one year, my body stayed in perfect shape."

It has been a year so fantastic that it could almost be used as the storyline of a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, one which began with uncertainty but ended with Lord Coe kneeling before her and untying her running-shoe laces before presenting her with that first of two Olympic gold medals.

"Eight or nine awards" have come her way so far, and, while only complacency on the part of her supporters appears likely to deny Holmes what she regards as "the pinnacle" of sporting honours in tonight's so-called "people's poll", the team award appears to be as close as some of the finishes involving two of the five contenders.

Arsenal, Premiership champions by 11 points and undefeated in a sequence which ultimately stretched to 49 games, and the European Ryder Cup team may have prevailed with something in hand, but the margin of victory recorded by both the Great Britain men's 4 x 100m relay team and the crew of the coxless four were, in context, minuscule. Though England's cricketers are the other contenders, such a distinction might be a year too early. An Ashes triumph would place them in prime position in 12 months' time.

For the first time, the public will be able to vote for that award during the programme, when there will also be presentations to Overseas Personality, Coach of the Year, Young Sports Personality of the Year, Unsung Hero, the Helen Rollason award and a Lifetime Achievement award.

Yet it is the individual trophy that, annually, is the most coveted and the most emotionally charged component of the programme, and which will attract not much fewer than two million votes. "I've been a couple of times [to the awards]," says Holmes. "In 2000 I was part of the Olympic squad who got the team award. It was amazing to be there in among so many fantastic sportspeople, but I never dreamt I would ever win it. Just to be in the running is brilliant. It's down to the public, and my only worry is that because everybody expects me to win it they won't vote."

One of her principal rivals for the trophy, the four-time Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent, has, at a similar age, recently retired from his sport. Holmes has no immediate desire to do so. "I can't just go from being an Olympic champion to an ex-athlete," Holmes says, although she does issue the caveat: "I'm not invincible. While I was in Athens, I was having physio constantly, and that's the reason I came out and performed like I did. The only thing that would stop me now is my head and whether my body stays in one piece."

Images of that eye-bulging elation at her success immediately after the 800 metres will remain long in our consciousness. "When I crossed the line I knew that I had won," she explains. "I was well aware I was in front. But my initial thought was, 'I couldn't have won the 800 metres' [her "lesser" event]. That was why I had a look of disbelief and shock. When I was standing there I was thinking, 'I'm celebrating but I couldn't really have won it'."

She adds: "I'd been used to everything going wrong for me in the past. There had always been something stopping me getting that gold medal. So when I won it I had to look at the screen just to make sure. I was thinking, 'Did I? Did I?' "

Holmes's immediate plans extend no further than the indoor circuit. "I can probably see myself running two or three races," she says. "But I won't make my mind up about the Europeans [indoor championships] until further on, because I don't know how I'm going to come out after my training. When I get on the track, I want to be running half-decently, and I don't want to be coming fifth or sixth. If I do decide to go to the European Championships I have to believe that I'd be going there capable of doing something good."

She has conceded previously that the intense hunger for major championships may have been sated by Athens. Does that not suggest it may be an appropriate moment for a career change? "The thing is, I know I can still run. I know I still can do it, so why not?" she insists. "Plus, it's going to give me the chance to enjoy my year's athletics, because it hasn't always been enjoyable with all the injuries and the bad luck I've had. Now that I've got more than I ever wanted, I just want to enjoy myself and make up my mind what I want to do as the season goes on."

Which appears an eminently sensible proposal from the woman whose belated emergence to centre stage has entranced a sporting nation.

¿ BBC Sports Personality of the Year, BBC1, 8.0-10.15pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Quantity Surveyor - 224/15

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The infrastructure, support services and const...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive - £20,000 OTE - Uncapped

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company a...

Recruitment Genius: Solutions Consultant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: As a Solutions Consultant for this Professiona...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A small family run HR consultancy based ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders