Pieces fall into place as rocky road turns gold

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The Independent Online

If Paula Radcliffe was able to see at all beyond her own emotional devastation yesterday, she might just have spotted a chink of inspiration in Kelly Holmes' thrilling gold medal run in the 800m. I've experienced the horrors of losing; after I crashed in seventh, injured, in the 1992 Olympic final, I didn't eat or sleep for a week and barely talked to a soul. Everything you worked for is gone, and how- ever the people around try to console you, you feel you've let everybody down.

I know Kelly Holmes very well; we used to eat and hang out together during the Atlanta Games in 1996, and I've seen the injuries and disappointments she has suffered on her rocky road to gold. Kelly's weren't dramatic injuries - she had stress fractures, wear and tear, illnesses, which came from pushing herself too far. Her own pain threshold and determination to succeed outstripped what her body could cope with. She was always a talented athlete, and in those days she was almost too good for her own body, which had to mature and catch up.

Time and again - such as in the 1997 World Championships where she was injured and couldn't race - she has been whacked by injury at the brink of winning titles. She has told me how crushed she felt, when she had put her heart and soul into athletics, then had her hopes scuppered. Every time was like her life was falling apart. She was mortified when she fell after her heels were clipped at this year's World Indoor Championships. I told her not to give up, that in the end it all had to come right for her. I'm not sure she believed it.

A few weeks before these Olympics the pressure was getting to her, she had lost her confidence and stopped racing. She went away to pull herself together, and last night we saw the pieces back in place. She ran a great, astute, perfectly judged and tremendously powerful race, then when she came alongside Maria Mutola in that final 60m you could see in her face that look, which said: "This is my one chance." Television captured superbly the disbelief on her face, the bewilderment, her refusal to celebrate until she'd been told, absolutely, she'd won.

She is an athlete who has been to the depths, absorbed it, and come back stronger for it. That is why Paula can take encouragement from Kelly's run. She can come back, most of us have had to, and I certainly believe Paula has what it takes. Kelly could hardly believe it was going right - that she had made it to Athens, then to the final, and then to gold itself. She was sure all along it would end in turmoil again, but this time injury never happened, glory did.