Holmes to reap rewards of Olympic glory

Kelly Holmes, the 34-year-old double gold-medallist, plans to keep running after turning a career of mishaps to blazing success.

The tears of pain are over for Kelly Holmes. The long years of injuries and mishaps that befell one of the world's unluckiest sportswomen finally came to an end here when the 34-year-old former Army physical training instructor became the greatest British female athlete in history by winning the middle-distance golden double. In future there will be tears of joy, no doubt, but the hurt has gone.

The tears of pain are over for Kelly Holmes. The long years of injuries and mishaps that befell one of the world's unluckiest sportswomen finally came to an end here when the 34-year-old former Army physical training instructor became the greatest British female athlete in history by winning the middle-distance golden double. In future there will be tears of joy, no doubt, but the hurt has gone.

For the moment, retirement is out of the question. "I'm not past my sell-by date, so why should I give up when I'm still running well?" she said. "Why not capitalise on what I've done and enjoy the experience of people announcing me as the Olympic champion? Even when I was lining up for the 1,500 they were announcing me as the Olympic 800 champion and I was thinking: 'Wow, that's me.' I had to try to stay focused. At the heats of the 1,500 all I wanted to do was wave to the British crowd. I had to refocus and think: 'No, you're racing.' But at the last two races I was so blinkered I didn't look at anyone."

The morning after the glorious night before, Holmes recalled the stress of a lifetime longing for Olympic success. "Throughout my career, every time I would think about being on the podium and winning the Olympic gold I would cry," she said. "It could be any time. It would just come to me, wherever I was. I could be sitting on a bus, driving somewhere or sitting with my family. I would just suddenly think: 'I want my dream so badly' and I would well up."

Holmes, who was chosen to carry the British flag at last night's closing ceremony, is the first Briton for 84 years to win Olympic gold medals at both 800m and 1,500m and the first British woman ever to win two track-and-field golds. Yet the past week, she said, had been the most difficult of her life.

"In bed in the morning I'd be filling up with tears and crying every time I had to go out and get ready for the next race. I couldn't believe I had the first medal, but I then had to start again on what was meant to be my main event, the 1,500. The day before last, when I had my rest day, I just couldn't wait for it to be over. I was so tired and wanted it to finish. I was saying: 'Do I have to run?' I just couldn't keep picking myself up. But then I'd go back to my room and I'd think: 'I'm never going to be in this position again, to be an Olympic champion and have a chance to win another medal.'"

Holmes's career has been dogged by injuries and setbacks. There have been major medals along the way - her double triumph here takes her total to 12 and includes an Olympic bronze four years ago - but at the major world events ultimate success eluded her.

In 1997 she went to the world championships as favourite to win the 1,500m but suffered an Achilles tendon injury in a heat, which kept her out of action for almost a year. Last year, she won silver in the world indoor championships at 1,500m when she was beaten by Regina Jacobs, who was later banned for drug offences. At the outdoor world championships a calf injury prevented her racing over 1,500m, though she performed heroically to win a silver at 800m.

Favourite again for gold in the 1,500m at this year's world indoor championships, Holmes tripped in the final and finished ninth. "That drained my confidence," she said. "It was as if anything that I wanted to achieve or believe in was just not going to happen. So why was I carrying on pretending to myself that one day it will go right?

"In the early years the setbacks made me very strong as a person because I would always fight back, but the last two years made me an emotional wreck. I kept having to try to pick myself up but then I'd be knocked back down again because I was injured. I just couldn't cope with it any more. Always burning inside me was the knowledge that I hadn't achieved my dream. I knew I had to keep going. That's what got me through, that's what made me train.

"This year has been hard just because I was in a really weird situation where I wasn't injured. I was just waiting for the day for something to go wrong. Every day that that went on, more and more I thought: 'Well now it's going to go wrong.' I never let myself believe it could go this right - until last night."

Holmes returns to England today and on Wednesday will go on an open-top bus parade from her home in Hildenborough in Kent to Tonbridge.

When she runs in future - she plans races this season in Rieti in Italy, Berlin, Monaco and Britain - she will, at last, enjoy the experience. "Most of my medals were won through adversity," she said. "Athletics wasn't something I enjoyed any more, it was something that I wanted desperately to do. Now I've got more than my dream I can enjoy it and whatever happens now it doesn't matter. I'll always be double Olympic champion, no matter what."

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