Ideal Holmes is where the heart is

Norman Fox expects to see a soldier who set her sights high win today

IT WAS one of those situations in which Army training comes in useful. Sgt Kelly Holmes was cornered. It was not exactly life or death but at about three- quarter distance in a recent 800 metres race at Crystal Palace she seemed trapped in the middle ranks and in no position to win anything more than a commendation for effort.

She sidestepped, held back for a split second to see the best way through, accelerated and won in a time she called "disappointing" - only the fifth fastest in the world this year. She heads the sparse roll of the new generation of athletes who are waiting to replace Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson as role-models.

Not long ago that awkward situation at Crystal Palace would probably have beaten her. But this season she has fairly bubbled with confidence and spread a glow of fitness to put an SAS man in the shade. As a teenage junior international she was always promising, but the demands of army life combined with a doubt that athletics was the most interesting of the many sports in which she excelled, meant she took her time to develop into a potential Olympic medal winner. She could confirm that potential by becoming world champion in Gothenburg next month.

In spite of the injury that stops her running at the world championship trials in Birmingham today, Sally Gunnell remains indisputably Britain's top woman athlete. But if the captain's injuries fail to heal, the sergeant will be ready to set the example in Sweden. Holmes has already been assured of her place in the 1500m but could also compete in the 800m. However, the organisers of this weekend's meeting have been unable to re-arrange the programme in such a way that would let her run both distances.

What she says she is good at is not so much the running but the "suffering". Her qualification is seven years as physical training instructor who has never told anyone, male or female, to complete any test of strength or stamina she has not managed herself. She admits to an aggressive streak, cultivated in the Army, training and being trained by men. Dragging logs through woods in full combat gear and climbing walls higher than Kate Staples's best pole vault must yield some advantage when it comes to running on a flat track.

That sort of army life suited her, but it was too diverse for someone with serious athletic ambitions. Now 25, she has been involved in the sport on and off for 11 years, but only in the past 12 months has she really been able to think of herself on equal terms with the rest of the full-time athletes. "I really needed a medal to make up my mind about the future," she said. Winning the Commonwealth Games 1500 metres last summer and a silver in the European Championship was enough.

Until then the army life, which she says she loves, had taken priority, but it seemed as if there was no way in which she could progress through career examinations and remain true to her athletic ambitions. Fortunately a happy compromise was reached when a few months ago she began working with the Guards Army Youth Team.

Last year she was seriously considering leaving her job but she says the Army realised the good publicity she had been offering them. They found a position that allowed her more time to train and to compete, not to speak of promotion. In return she is now committed to another 18 months promoting the Army as a career. Everything seems to be working well: "I'd never done a full year's training before. Last year there was the Achilles problem but before that I was always involved in too may different sports."

She was more than just "involved". She was the Army judo champion and also represented them at volleyball while remaining the Army's "star" athlete. But Army athletics is far too easy for someone with eyes on Olympic gold. Last year she realised that she would have embarrassed the entry in the Army championship's women's 1500m so she went in with the men and finished sixth, breathlessly followed by several of the "ultra fit" Parachute Regiment. This season she ran the 800m and 3,000m, then a relay leg, and won them all - on the same day.

Having joined Tonbridge AC in Kent at the age of 14, by the time she signed up for the Army she seemed on the doorstep of a significant athletics career. She lost form simply because although the life kept her fit, she was fit only for the army life, not for big-time athletics. It was four years after she joined that she watched the 1992 Olympic Games. One of the competing athletes made her sit up and think "I used to beat her". Having maintained basic fitness, she quickly gained a place in the national athletics team and despite still training only four times a week she reached the 1993 world championship semi-finals. "That made me ask myself what I could do if I trained properly." Now she knows.

Her ability to suffer without faltering, let alone complaining, pulled her through last summer. She was constantly in pain from an Achilles injury and at times resorted to swimming in order to keep her weight off the injured leg. Her perseverance had a lot to do with the first person in the Army to encourage her to stop being a driver, which was her first job. Suffering from tendinitis, she was unable to run and so went to the gym in an effort to keep fit. The warrant officer in charge was Kriss Akabusi.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Early Years Higher Level Teaching Assistant in Bradford

£65 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: A full time Higher Level Teaching...

Reception Teacher in Bradford

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Reception Primary Teacher in Bra...

English Secondary Teacher

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: English Teacher needed for ...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album