Colin Jackson: Holmes shows sprinters when track success really counts
Monday 30 August 2004
As a purist for my sport, I will remember the Athens Olympics 2004 as a tremendous occasion, the arena playing host to wonderful performances from some supreme athletes.
As a purist for my sport, I will remember the Athens Olympics 2004 as a tremendous occasion, the arena playing host to wonderful performances from some supreme athletes: Kenenisa Bekele sprinting away with the 10,000 metres mantle from his mentor, Haile Gebrselassie, Justin Gatlin holding his mental strength for a surprise 100m gold, Hicham El Guerrouj's phenomenal 1500m and 5,000m double gold, Xiang Liu equalling my own world record in the 110m hurdles. In the strength and skill of our own Kelly Holmes's golds in the 800m and 1500m, we have seen possibly the greatest achievement ever in the history of British athletics, and a feat to astound the world.
It was also great to see our boys run so well in the 4x100m relay, and they had clearly worked remarkably hard at their baton changes. But I do hope we are not going to hear too much of Darren Campbell saying that with those golds, our guys have answered their critics, me prominent among them. If Darren, or any of the others, truly believe that winning the relay, a team event, means they enjoyed a successful games, they are in the wrong sport.
Athletics is an individual journey; most athletes could have competed well in team sports - Darren included, who was a competent professional footballer - but chose track specifically because it tests us as individuals against each other and the clock. In the great championships, and the annals of athletics' achievement, everybody remembers individual golds.
Most people can rattle off who won the 100m gold going back decades, but who remembers relay winners, let alone the four guys who were in the team? The relays are fringe races, run at the end to wrap up championships. In my prime, the sprint boys were always asking me to run the relay, but mostly I turned them down because it didn't mean anything to me.
Darren, Jason Gardener, Mark Lewis-Francis and Marlon Devonish, who ran so well, are far from stupid guys; they know this. The reality for them is that Great Britain has had a sprinter in every Olympics 100m final since Alan Wells won gold in 1980, a record broken here after 24 years because none of them made it. They are professionals, so they know very well that next season, they will find it extremely difficult to get into races at the major Grand Prix meets, where eight lanes are reserved for the world's best athletes.
I do hope, however, that the win stands them in good stead. My former coach Malcolm Arnold coaches Jason, so I know his preparation is right and how hard he works. I don't know Mark too well, but he has fantastic credentials as the former world junior champion and record holder. Winning Olympic gold is obviously a fantastic experience for them, and I hope that taste of the podium inspires them to renew their efforts and improve their performances, so they can taste success as individuals. Both produced season's bests here in the semi-finals, and peaking at championships is a good habit to build on.
Our sport still has major questions to answer, even though the Olympics ended with a bang for Britain. Apart from Jason (Gardener), Mark (Lewis-Francis), Kelly Sotherton's fantastic bronze in the decathlon, Chris Tomlinson's excellent long jump performance, Dean Macey's manful efforts and Steve Backley's remarkable swansong, we don't have too much to celebrate. We have to aim to produce gold medal competitors across the events.
Kelly Holmes has demonstrated everything the sport is about, not only with her phenomenal achievements, but having done it at 34 - sorry to keep mentioning your age, Kelly - after years of setbacks and injuries. Everybody in the sport is so delighted for her, and younger athletes can learn from Kelly's work, dedication and one very telling aspect of the way she has reacted to success: she has been ever so humble and disbelieving. You won't find Kelly Holmes shouting in the press. She is a true champion.
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