On a night of nights for beleaguered British track and field, Holmes produced her second stunning performance of the Games to add the 1500m gold medal to the 800m gold she had won on the same track last Monday night. Then, barely eighty minutes later, the unfancied, off-form British male sprinters stepped on to the track to deliver an emphatic riposte to all of their many critics.
In the upset of the track and field programme at these Athens Games, Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis summoned a golden two-fingered salute to Michael Johnson, Colin Jackson and the rest of the athletics fraternity who had written them off as a bunch of lame, malingering underachievers after the failure to get a single British speed merchant into the final of the 100m or 200m.
It was a wholly different story in the unforgettable final of the 4 x 100m relay last night. Devonish handed Lewis-Francis a one-metre lead going into the final leg and the 21-year-old West Midlander held on to the very last fraction of it, crossing the line just ahead of Maurice Greene, the anchor leg runner for the red-hot favourite United States quartet.
Greene, the former Olympic 100m champion and world-record holder, had predicted with characteristic modesty after the heats on Friday night that he and his colleagues would break the world record. Instead, the supermen of world sprinting were broken. The British quartet won by 0.01sec, in 38.07sec.
They won handsomely in other respects, holding hands as they ascended the top step of the rostrum to collect their gold medals and conducting themselves with the kind of humility that could hardly have afforded a greater contrast to the ugly preening, posing and posturing for which Greene and his victorious colleagues were subsequently forced to apologise in Sydney four years ago. "I am Olympic champion," Lewis-Francis said. "It is the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life. I can go home with my head held high."
Lewis-Francis, who turned down an Olympic place four years ago because he felt he was too young at 17, could certainly do that. And so could Holmes, who brought her Midas touch to bear with a vengeance in the women's 1500m final.
Judging her tactics to absolute perfection, the woman from Kent crossed the line in 3min 57.90sec, a British record, 0.22sec clear of the Russian Tatyana Tomashova. In doing so, at the age of 34, she became the first female British athlete to win a second Olympic gold. She also achieved an Olympic middle-distance double that proved beyond the great Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, although Albert Hill won the men's 800m and 1500m for Britain at the 1920 Games in Antwerp.
Britain, with 29 medals, have now surpassed the number they won in Sydney, although they are still three golds behind on nine.Reuse content