Grey skies are lifted as Holmes hits her stride
Monday 26 July 2004
Kelly Holmes brought a warm glow to an unseasonably grey and blustery day in Birmingham that left many of Britain's prospective Olympians, notably the sprinters, with a chilly feeling. The 34-year-old Olympic 800 metres bronze medallist left the world's fastest woman this year, Slovenia's European champion Jolanda Ceplak, six metres adrift in the Norwich Union International here after bursting clear around the final bend.
It was the ideal performance for an athlete who has recently complained of a lack of confidence, although Holmes, who won in 2min 00.46sec, still appears set on running the 1500m in Athens rather than doubling up.
In defeating Ceplak - the woman she accused of resorting to illegal means two years ago after she had beaten her in the European Championships - she registered an impressive marker, especially as the Slovenian has run 1:57.68 this year. Yesterday she managed only 2:01.75.
With her training partner, the Olympic and world 800m champion Maria Mutola, struggling with a hamstring injury, the signs appear to be pointing Holmes back towards the event that has earned her Olympic bronze and world championship silver. But with 1500m races coming up at Crystal Palace on Friday, and in Zurich the week after, she is keeping an open mind.
"I'm really pleased," she said. "I didn't think I would beat Ceplak by that much. But it doesn't mean the doubts I've had in the 1500m will go away. It's a stressful time with the Olympics so close, and I've been doubting myself recently."
This, surely, was a performance to banish doubts - even for an athlete who has been prey to sudden and inexplicable dips in confidence over the years.
The Russian Yelena Isinbayeva also ended the day on a high after emerging from the cocoon of her duvet to register a pole vault of 4.89 metres, her sixth world record and her third on these shores.
Britain's male sprinters, however, were left out in the cold as they were well beaten in the individual event by the world champion, Kim Collins, and lost out to a team of US reserves in the relay. Collins provided further evidence to back up his predictions about adding the Olympic title to his Commonwealth and World championships.
The outspoken 28-year-old from St Kitt's and Nevis crossed the line in the 100m with a wide smile on his face, finishing well clear in a time of 10.10sec which was assisted by a following wind of 2.6 metres per second.
Mark Lewis-Francis, running as a guest on his home track, finished second in 10.27, trials winner Jason Gardener fifth in 10.34 and Darren Campbell, whose commitment was undermined by a false start and a broken shoe strapping, sixth in 10.37. Campbell later pulled out of the sprint relay as a precaution because of a painful Achilles tendon.
After the race, Collins explained the generally slow times being run in the 100m this season with what was presumably a reference to increased vigilance on the doping front.
"In the days when Linford Christie was running, nobody ran under 10 seconds before major championships," he said. "Now it's normal times for normal people."
It was a poor show from the British men, although Lewis-Francis, who only finished third in the Olympic trials and AAA Championships, was looking on the bright side. "I said it at the AAA Championships - I always believed I am the fastest man in Britain and I think that has gone a long way to proving it."
Isinbayeva had raised the world record to 4.87m at Gateshead on 27 June, her second successive world mark at the North-east venue, only to see bitter Russian rival, Svetlana Feofanova, go a centimetre higher a week later.
The former gymnast celebrated her latest advance in characteristic style, performing a backflip and then handing out signed photographs to spectators sitting in the back-straight seats alongside the pole vault runway. Asked what she intended to do with the third $50,000 world record cheque she has received in Britain in the past couple of years, she said: "I buy shoes."
The 400m provided further hopeful signs for two British athletes who have emerged this season, European Cup winner Tim Benjamin and Olympic trials winner Christine Ohuruogu, as both finished in second place behind athletes strongly fancied to challenge for Olympic medals.
Benjamin, breathless as usual after finishing in 46.34sec, talked about the "horrible weather", but he battled to the end to finish ahead of the Americans who finished second and third in the US Olympic trials, Derrick Brew and Adam Steele, and a couple of strides adrift of Jamaica's Commonwealth champion Michael Blackwood, who won in 46.08.
Ohuruogu finished strongly, just as at the Manchester trials two weeks earlier, moving from fourth to second in the final 30 metres and clocking 52.14sec, her second fastest time, behind Allison Beckford's 51.85sec.
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