Is she our greatest ever Olympic athlete?

Had anyone said beforehand that a British woman athlete would win two gold medals at these Games, there would only have been one name that sprang to mind, and it would not have been Kelly Holmes.

Had anyone said beforehand that a British woman athlete would win two gold medals at these Games, there would only have been one name that sprang to mind, and it would not have been Kelly Holmes.

But what this 34-year-old Kent athlete has achieved in the space of nine days has elevated her beyond even the Olympian levels she has aspired to since she began running as a 13-year-old.

As her idol, Sebastian Coe, pointed out earlier this week, Holmes was attempting a middle distance double that no other Briton - not he, not Steve Ovett, not Steve Cram - has managed since Albert Hill, a 31-year-old First World War veteran, won two titles in the 1920 Antwerp Games.

Russians will argue that she can claim no pre-eminence over their own Svetlana Masterkova, who won both the 800 and 1500m at the 1996 Atlanta Games. But in domestic terms, Holmes now stands comparison with any other athlete who has worn the Union Jack.

Paula Radcliffe, whose Olympic ambitions at first the marathon and then 10,000m came to grief here, has been a superlative operator at distances between 5,000 and 26 miles 385 yards in the past two years, reshaping the latter event with her world record.

But the harsh truth for Radcliffe is that the Olympics are the ultimate arbiter of athletic achievement.

Only six British women have won Olympic titles before Holmes - Ann Packer, Mary Rand, Mary Peters, Tessa Sanderson, Sally Gunnell and Denise Lewis. She joins eight British men, the last two of whom were Coe and Daley Thompson, on two golds.

Out of the female athletes in that list, you would probably pick Gunnell as a comparable achiever, given that she was at one time Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth champion at 400m hurdles as well as holding the world record.

Asked to assess her elevated place in athletics history yesterday, Holmes laughed: "It's really bizarre. My Mum said 'You're in history now' and I said like, 'Shut up?!'"

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