Holmes finds a silver lining in defeat

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The Independent Online

reports from Gothenburg

Kelly Holmes's face as she accepted the world 1500 metres silver medal here said everything about her feelings. Brave smile; brimming tears. Even at the age of 12, her coach Dave Arnold recalled, this was an athlete who thought the world had come to an end if she lost. At 25, it seems nothing has changed.

On a night when Britain's 400m runners were left in the wake of the second fastest time ever, by Michael Johnson, and Britain's medal challenge in the women's 10,000m tumbled along with Yvonne Murray, Holmes did everything within her power to add a gold to the one Jonathan Edwards had collected two days earlier.

But she was defeated by an athlete even more powerful than herself in Hassiba Boulmerka, Algeria's Olympic world champion. Indeed, she was out- Holmesed - something which seemed to make the impact of defeat even harder.

Having tracked the Algerian throughout, Holmes moved outside on to her shoulder as they came out of the back straight. For a moment on the final bend, the race was poised. But the Army sergeant, for whom assault courses are a regular feature of working life, found this was a task too far.

Boulmerka, who has completed only one race this season while Holmes has been winning an impressive sequence of races, resisted the challenge, drifting out slightly to force Holmes even wider. The Algerian moved into the second lane in the final straight, but Holmes could not accelerate into the gap, finishing in 4min 03.04sec behind Boulmerka's 4:02.42.

Adding a silver to last year's European silver and Commonwealth gold clearly failed to satisfy Holmes, who is also entered for the 800m here. "I am so disappointed," she said. "Everybody said that I'd set my sights too high. But if I had set my sights on the silver, I might have won bronze."

Boulmerka questioned the wisdom of Holmes's racing programme. "This is the World Championships and you have to concentrate on one event. The 1500m is a specific event. You can't do the 1500 and the 800.''

She also dismissed press reports that she had required special security arrangements here to safeguard her against extremist Islamic groups who object to their women competing in international athletics in what they consider to be revealing clothing.

"That was just a made-up story," she said. "But it was very important for me to win this for me and for all the women of Islam.''

The 10,000m, in which Liz McColgan finished a creditable sixth behind the winner, Fernanda Ribeiro, of Portugal, proved calamitous for Murray.

After eight of the 25 laps, the Commonwealth champion, racing in only the fourth 10,000m of her life, accelerated to try and cover a break and appeared to collide with the runner in front of her, Maria Guida, of Italy. Murray span to the track, grazing her leg and arm, but staggered up and set off in last place.

After 6,000m, however, she gave up the struggle and pulled out. "I can't put into words how I feel," she said. "I've never fallen on the track before. To train all year for that . . . racing again is the last thing on my mind.''

The race started so slowly that Ribeiro led them through the first 400m in 1min 23.02sec. McColgan, with that oriental look she has when she is lean and fit, decided this would not do, and took up the running.

But by 5,000m the former world champion had lost touch with the leading group of five. She ran on doggedly and alone in what was only her fourth 10,000m since the Olympic final, despite being troubled by a groin injury which she had sustained in a collision during the heats.

"That kind of thing plays havoc with your mind when you go into a big race," she said. "But I suppose I should be satisfied because I only got back to the track after injury nine weeks ago.''

Ribeiro was tracked by Ethiopia's Olympic champion, Derartu Tulu, but broke away with 120m to go.

Roger Black and Mark Richardson, along with five other men, were in a separate race to Johnson, whose time of 43.39sec was just 0.10sec short of the world record.

Richardson, however, had much to be satisfied with, finishing in fifth place from lane eight in a personal best time of 44.81sec.

"I'm young, I have had two years out of the sport, and I have achieved this in a year," he said. "I have buried a lot of ghosts here. There were a lot of Doubting Thomases who said I was scared to compete. But I have demonstrated that I have got the temperament for this kind of occasion.

"My motivation from now on is to be as good as Michael Johnson. He is going to be my focus during those cold, wet evenings training in Windsor. I have told myself that if I really want it, I can have it.''

Black was more downbeat after finishing seventh in 45.28. His form of last month, when he equalled his lifetime best of 44.59, has flown. "I knew I wasn't in fantastic shape, but I was pleased to make the final," he said. "I would have liked to have done better, but I won't lose any sleep over it.

"It was a privilege to be in a race with Michael Johnson. When talent was given out I got some, but I wasn't given that much. He's been blessed. It's as simple as that.''

Heike Drechsler, Germany's Olympic long jump champion, and her compatriot Sabine Braun, the European heptathlon champion, pulled out of the heptathlon in Gothenburg yesterday. Drechsler withdrew after three events because of an ankle injury, while Braun injured a hand during the high jump, the second discipline.

Results, page 27