Night of the ideal Holmes exhibition

After all the years of heartache, Britain's heroine makes it look easy as she powers into history
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It was 3min 57.90sec of sheer running perfection. This time the one-time army judo champion did not have to dig to the depths of her toes to come up with the gold. That was because there was nobody to match the peerless Kelly Holmes over three-and-three-quarter laps of the Olympic Stadium last night.

It was 3min 57.90sec of sheer running perfection. This time the one-time army judo champion did not have to dig to the depths of her toes to come up with the gold. That was because there was nobody to match the peerless Kelly Holmes over three-and-three-quarter laps of the Olympic Stadium last night.

Rounding the bend into the home straight on the final circuit, the 1500-metres gold was hers. She suspected it as she glanced inside, just to check there was no one gathering for the kill. She knew it for sure a good 30 metres from the line, as she moved into overdrive, running wide and gliding past the trio of Russians who were powerless to stop her.

The wide grin said it all in the last few triumphal strides. After all the years of heartache - the ruptured Achilles tendon on the same track at the 1997 World Championships, the fall three laps from home at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest just five months ago - it was not supposed to be like this. After the fight all of the way to the line for the 800m gold last Monday, it was all too easy.

The second lane of the Olympic Stadium unfolded like a glorious golden carpet for the 34-year-old woman of Kent. She made it look easy because, after all those years of trying, all those years of near things, the pride of Ealing, Southall and Middlesex Ladies Athletics Club had found a Midas touch for the second time in five days. This time with a vengeance.

Sitting watching in the main stand were Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram. It was never quite this good even for the golden triumvirate of British middle-distance running. They never managed to achieve the Olympic 800m and 1500m double that means the name of Kelly Holmes will be recalled long after she hangs up her racing spikes.

She did not simply cross a white line in the home of the Olympic Games last night. As she sank to her knees and the reality of her achievement started to sink in slowly, the former army physical-training instructor was coming to terms with her sudden status as one of the all-time greats of British athletics.

No British woman had ever won two golds in track-and-field competition. Only two women of any nationality had completed the 800m and 1500m middle- distance double, the Russians Tatyana Kazankina in 1976 and Svetlana Masterkova in 1996. And only once before had any British athlete struck 800m and 1500m gold at the same Olympic Games: back in 1920 in Antwerp, in the shape of Albert Hill, a 31-year-old railway worker.

He had to overcome even greater battles to reach his Olympian twin peak. He fought with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. On the track, though, he could not fly quite as fast as the former Sergeant Holmes.

His winning time was 4min 01.8sec. Holmes crossed the line in 3min 57.90sec, a 0.19sec improvement on her seven-year-old British record.

It was just another reward for a run that was executed with stunning precision. With 600m to go, Holmes was still lying 10th of the 12 competitors. She was simply biding her time. With 200m left, she was up to fifth and, moving wide round the crown of the bend, she was in position to overhaul the three Russians.

She did it with room to spare in the end, crossing the line 0.22sec clear of Tatyana Tomashova, the best of the Russians, with Mari Cioncan coming through for the bronze.

"I'm so tired I just can't even express the words I feel," the double champion said, her sixth race in eight days behind her. "I feel I'll wake up in the morning and have to do it all again. I'm so exhausted, but the hardest thing tonight was focusing on the race and pretending I hadn't won one. I was looking at my medal this morning with tears filling my eyes thinking: 'I've got one, and I just want this over and done with'. I had to stick to my own tactics. I just had to make my move at the right time." She did that with a vengeance, with the kind of supreme assurance that Sam Haughian and Ed Prickett would have been the first to applaud.

It was in the company of the two promising young British internationals that Holmes laid the foundations for her Olympic campaign, training at Potchefstroom in South Africa, With the track season about to start in May, Haughian, a brilliant runner-up in the 2002 European Cup 5,000m race in Annecy, lost his life in a car accident in Johannesburg. He was 24. A week later Prickett was knocked down and killed by a car outside Gateshead Stadium after running in the British Universities Championships. He was 21.

"That was such a tragedy," Holmes reflected in her hour of ultimate glory. "Just prior to Sam's death, we'd been out for lunch, all laughing and everything. And then I met Ed for the first time. We had dinner one night and he was such a lovely guy. What happened to them just puts things in perspective, the reality of life.

"They were both talented athletes. Their ambition was to go to the Olympics and they never got the chance. I got a letter last month from Ed's mother, Sharon, saying how pleased he had been to meet me and that his ambition was to go to the Olympics. It's really heartbreaking what happened to both of them. It makes you realise you have to take whatever opportunities are given to you."

Holmes has done that much in Athens, though none of it would have been possible but for the blessed Lisa York. Holmes was content with her life as an army PTI until she happened to see her former schoolgirl rival running in the 3,000m heats at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

"I was in my barrack room at York garrison watching the Olympics on television," she reflected. "I thought, 'Wow, I could be doing that.' If she could do it, I was sure I could. It gave me back the dream I had of running in the Olympics."

Twelve years on, Holmes has lived the dream to the full in Athens. She will wake up this morning to the glorious reality of two gold medals gleaming alongside her on her bed in the Olympic Village.