Sports Personality of the Year: New dreams beyond the afterglow

Holmes and dry for the golden girl as Pinsent ponders future

If the stock of Kelly Holmes and Matthew Pinsent was not sufficiently high already, it is guaranteed to be raised again next Sunday evening, when measured by that gold standard of post-Olympic fervour, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. The likely victory of the Athens double gold-medal winner, and the almost certain top-three placing of the newly retired four-times gold medallist, in the end-of-year spectacular will elevate the profile of both.

If the stock of Kelly Holmes and Matthew Pinsent was not sufficiently high already, it is guaranteed to be raised again next Sunday evening, when measured by that gold standard of post-Olympic fervour, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. The likely victory of the Athens double gold-medal winner, and the almost certain top-three placing of the newly retired four-times gold medallist, in the end-of-year spectacular will elevate the profile of both.

What can be forecast less accurately is how long that acclaim, and its income-earning potential, will last once the winning line is crossed for the final time. Pinsent has already declared his disinclination to become old man river. Holmes, the 800m and 1500m gold medallist, has no immediate plans for retirement.

However, though she initially confirmed that her targets next year were the European Indoor Championships in Madrid, followed by the World Championships in Helsinki, the runner has subsequently conceded her future is more fluid. "I don't have to be 100 per cent focused any more," she has said. "I don't have to be totally driven. I can open up to other things because I want to, and because I can."

For Holmes, the sense of national euphoria still attends her closely. "Everywhere I go, it's absolute hysteria, and I think, 'Wow'. Even at training the other day a big bunch of children came down and started cheering me as if I were a pop star."

However, she, like Pinsent, is conscious that her "sell-by" date, by which time she will have devoured the majority of commercial opportunities, will probably not extend beyond Beijing. As five-times gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave says: "In the back of your mind, you do wonder quite how long the public appreciation is going to last. After Sydney, I wondered whether it would all dwindle by Athens. Fortunately, it didn't. But I've been fortunate because I've been propelled into the élite category."

Can the same be said of his former pairs partner, Pinsent? A tally of four golds, in isolation a remarkable achievement, doesn't have quite the same resonance about it as the five which adorn Redgrave's neck. "I have to be careful now in life," reflects the Old Etonian Pinsent. "I have to remember that it's only rowing that I'm best in the world in. Those last 10 strokes out in Athens, that 18 seconds [during which the British four repelled the challenge of the Canadian crew by inches], may dominate my thoughts now. In 10 years' time, who knows?"

Nevertheless, neither Holmes nor Pinsent are dashing into the embrace of those who would immediately exploit their current celebrity. The former demonstrated perhaps where her future lies by conducting a training camp in South Africa for some of that country and Britain's best middle-distance runners. She has admitted that she no longer possesses the same hunger for competition. "I am 34 and my goals were to be in the army and be Olympic champion and I have achieved those. I have no more goals. At some stage, I have to make new ones, but I don't need to rush into it."

Pinsent, after the longest retirement deliberations in history, regards this moment, appositely enough, as a watershed in his life. In, say, 10 years' time, Pinsent does not still want to be talked about as an ex-oarsman. "I'm after finding something that's going to be a career," he says. "I want my tombstone to read what my achievements were, followed by: Oh and by the way, he won four Olympic gold medals."

Curiously, Pinsent's priority is to trade the rigours of rowing for the even more gruelling life of a journalist. You inform him, with mock gravitas, that it could prove too tough a life, this. He laughs, before adding mischievously: "Well, you make it look easy."

He adds, in more serious tone: "I know if I'd won a bronze [in Athens], then it would have been very quiet. Winning, well, for a period of time, the world is your oyster. I'm getting snowed under with offers at the moment, although admittedly some get chucked in the bin straight away. I'm not after being recognised in the supermarket.

"For a while, a year, 18 months, I can rush around and do a lot of different things. But in two years, four years, then I should know where I'm going. I'll be best when I focus on something. I know I'm going to have to go and learn my trade."

There has been talk of TV, and screen tests, even for the BBC's news and current affairs departments. "Yeah, Paxman watch out. Here I come," Pinsent scoffs. "No, if my area of expertise and recognition is highest in sport, why move away from that?"

Surely it will be frustrating if he doesn't thrive in that new career as he did on the water? "Becoming the best in another sphere, well, that's quite a tight mandate," he says. "At the end of the day, I was built for rowing. For the moment I'll just concentrate on being better than Steve [Redgrave] at golf."

The most obvious career move would be to step "upstairs"; to remain in rowing in some administrative, if not coaching, capacity. "I need to go away for three or four years and come back a much more rounded, distant person," he says. "At the moment, I'm still pissing about with the guys on the landing stage. I haven't got the right decorum to be president of this, that or the other."

It has also been mooted that he may succeed Craig Reedie as chairman of the British Olympic Association. "I'd love to think that I could do that, when Craig steps down," Pinsent agrees. "But there'll be plenty of career-long administrators who will want that role. Anyway, it doesn't pay anything, it's a voluntary position and it's fairly time-consuming."

For the moment, he may have to contemplate a national recognition purely as Sir Matthew Pinsent, an honour he is widely forecast to receive in due course. Meanwhile, only complacency on the part of Holmes's supporters can prevent the Kent athlete claiming "the biggest sporting honour your country can give you". She says of the impending BBC award: "My worry is that everyone assumes that I'm going to get it - so go out and vote, everyone!"

The probability is that the public, galvanised by images from the summer, will need no further bidding. What happens next is a rather more intriguing issue for the British Olympic duo who boast six golds between them.

They also had a good year...

The Best of British

Jenson Button

Consistent face on the podium. A maiden F1 grand prix win in 2005? Likely, in spite of Schumacher.

Andrew Flintoff

The world's best all-round cricketer on current form. Fatherhood helped make it a memorable 2004.

Tanni Grey-Thompson

Competed in her fifth Paralympics, the two gold medals in Athens taking her Games haul to 11.

Amir Khan

Bolton's teenage boxer went to Athens and returned with silver. The rest is hysteria.

Ronnie O'Sullivan

Won a second snooker world title at The Crucible, to show he has few peers when he puts his mind to it.

Paula Radcliffe

She can't run away from the disappointment of Athens, but returned to win the New York Marathon.

Wayne Rooney

Lit up Euro 2004 and joined Man United, scoring a Champions' League hat-trick on debut. Still 19.

Bradley Wiggins

A full set of Olympic cycling medals - individual pursuit gold, British team silver, madison bronze.

Danny Williams

Stood up to an admittedly washed-up Mike Tyson and stopped him in four rounds.

Internationally

Lance Armstrong: a record sixth straight Tour de France. Roger Federer: three Grand Slams... the reason why Tim Henman won't win Wimbledon. Vijay Singh: became golf's world No 1, won $10m on the US PGA Tour. Michael Phelps: six golds at Athens elevated him to the world's best swimmer. Michael Schumacher: a record seventh F1 drivers' title. Ronaldinho: Barça's Brazilian looks like being World Footballer of the Year.

Coaches

Duncan Fletcher: has taken England to second in the Test ratings. Arsène Wenger: only seven losses in 55 matches for Arsenal - and two in the last week.

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