James Lawton: For Holmes, a place among the Olympic greats. For Radcliffe, an early flight home - Olympics - Sport - The Independent

James Lawton: For Holmes, a place among the Olympic greats. For Radcliffe, an early flight home

Kelly Holmes' astounding surge through the 28th Olympics reached a stunning climax here last night when she ran into history and claimed a golden double. The 34-year-old Kent woman defied all the laws of probability when she added the 1500m title to her earlier utterly unexpected triumph in the 800m.

Kelly Holmes' astounding surge through the 28th Olympics reached a stunning climax here last night when she ran into history and claimed a golden double. The 34-year-old Kent woman defied all the laws of probability when she added the 1500m title to her earlier utterly unexpected triumph in the 800m.

But this, coming so long after she had been assigned to the nearly status of silver and bronze, was merely the detail of her defeat of the 29-year-old favourite, Russia's Tatyana Tomashova, and of the Romanian Maria Cioncan, who is seven years her junior. What Holmes did on the track was simply pulverising. She toyed with the field and then, running wide, destroyed it in a winning time of three minutes 57.9 seconds.

It was ­ as far as it can ever be said to be so in the never-simple world of big-time athletics ­ the perfect victory. It separated her from her rivals in a quite astonishing way. That it should come in her last Olympics and so apparently effortlessly was just another source of wonder.

Only one British runner had ever achieved such a feat before, Albert Hill in 1920 in Antwerp. That distinction remained unique for 44 years until it was matched by the great Peter Snell of New Zealand in Tokyo. Among women, Holmes is just one of two to have achieved the double in the classic distance races. Svetlana Masterkova of Russia beat her to the prize in Atlanta eight years ago.

For Holmes, her second victory of the week here in the Olympic Stadium was another source of disbelief and joy. For the rest of the world, it was something that landed with the impact of pure surprise. She did more than win a foot race. She stunned the senses.

Paula Radcliffe was back at Heathrow before Holmes had even begun warming up. As she left this town she might have been a waif, a lost girl sitting on a cardboard suitcase at the bus station. In fact, she did have a certain distinction, bleak though it was. She was the face of the other side of the Olympics, the one that tells you what can happen when you cannot deliver your own ­ and your nation's ­ fantasy.

In all the ambition and pain of these 28th Olympics, nothing could begin to match the sheer emptiness of the 30-year-old Radcliffe's retreat. Her life, her face seemed to say, had been stripped down and made devoid of meaning. In the past, the world had seen how painful defeat could be for her. Three years ago, in the world championships, it led to a public row with her former athlete husband, Gary Lough. But here the price has been clearly, and hauntingly, higher.

If Radcliffe could see anything outside the small circle of the pain that consumed her when she dropped out of last Sunday's marathon, the rise of Holmes must have seemed like the last cruel dimension of her own eclipse.

Fortunately, there has been no dire shortage of old and new heroes and heroines. Holmes's achievement was a bonus. Matthew Pinsent and his rowers, predictably, delivered more glory; Ben Ainslie entrenched his reputation as the greatest single-handed sailor of his generation; and Bradley Wiggins cycled like a demon. And today, maybe, a 17-year-old Amir Khan ...

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