Gold seals Kelly's split with partner

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The Independent Online

Kelly Holmes woke up yesterday - if she slept at all - the country's new heroine, all of us still high on her fantastic gold medal run, the British team in Athens given a huge lift by her performance. Maria Mutola, her great rival and one-time training partner, certainly won't be feeling the same, having finished fourth in the 800 metres in which Holmes won gold on Monday.

Kelly Holmes woke up yesterday - if she slept at all - the country's new heroine, all of us still high on her fantastic gold medal run, the British team in Athens given a huge lift by her performance. Maria Mutola, her great rival and one-time training partner, certainly won't be feeling the same, having finished fourth in the 800 metres in which Holmes won gold on Monday.

Kelly and Maria trained together for a while, but it wasn't one of athletics' great long-term partnerships. There is no doubt they have great respect for each other as athletes, and they were good friends for a while. We all believe Maria protected Kelly in last year's Paris World Championships 800m race, guiding her to claim silver behind Maria. Earlier this year, they stopped training together. Why, we don't know, and Kelly hasn't told me, but I sense something happened between them and they are not necessarily great friends now.

On the track, nobody is a friend - even Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford, the two US sprinters who remind me of myself and the Canadian sprint hurdler Mark McKoy, who are long-term training partners and genuine buddies. In the final in Barcelona in 1992, Mark won gold and I crashed. In the 100m sprint final on Sunday, Justin came through for gold and iced Shawn, who came fourth.

Shawn, though, was there to congratulate him, and could be pleased, knowing they both competed to their ultimate. In Barcelona, I was distraught at my performance, but Mark's gold showed me all our preparations had been right, and I could be genuinely happy for him.

Maria, however, didn't go to congratulate Kelly, although she said afterwards that Kelly deserved to win. Maria, the defending champion, had her own emotions to deal with after losing that desperate struggle, but it was still surprising she had nothing to say to Kelly on the track after the race.

With those titans clashing, the world hasn't concentrated too much on the runners coming in second, the Moroccan Hasna Benhassi, and third, the Slovenian Jolanda Ceplak. But in Slovenia they've had eyes for little else.

Jolanda, a good friend of mine whom I tipped to win, as she did in the 2002 European Championships when Kelly came third, will also return home to a heroine's welcome. She told me after Monday's race that coming off the bend she thought her legs were gone and knew she couldn't catch Kelly or Maria. Then, from somewhere, her strength came back and she finished tremendously; another five metres and Jolanda would have won.

In Slovenia, they won't quibble; hers is a new, post-Yugoslavia, beautiful country of only three and a half million people, where she is a huge sports icon. People there are overjoyed with Yolanda's performance and were so proud to see her blonde head bobbing round the track, a Slovenian flag on her shoulders. We're all delighted for Kelly, but being third best in the world is a great feat too, and in Slovenia right now, bronze is golden.

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