Questions raised by Holmes' latest injury

Mike Rowbottom assesses the handling of another championship disappoint ment
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The Independent Online
As Kelly Holmes attempts to salvage something from her season through treatment in a Swiss clinic, the after-effects of her unexpected departure from the World Championships are being widely felt.

Holmes, who pulled out of her 1500 metres heat in tears on Saturday morning, is being treated for an Achilles tendon injury by Dr Roland Biedert, the man to whom Sally Gunnell turned after being injured shortly before last year's Olympics. She hopes to return to action at the Zurich Grand Prix on 13 August.

It was a desperate turn of events for a runner who - until she picked up her injury a fortnight ago doing speed training - had seemed ready to turn her enormous potential into gold. So similar was Holmes's latest misfortune to her experiences of last year - when her Olympic challenge was undermined by a stress fracture incurred two weeks beforehand - that questions must be asked about the way she prepares for major championships.

She is consumed with the desire to prove she is the best in the world, a phrase she repeated over and over in the traumatic aftermath of her withdrawal; perhaps she strains too far when she should be easing back.

One has to wonder how much of an impact was made when she was overpowered - out-Holmesed in effect - by Algeria's Hassiba Boulmerka in the final straight of the last World Championship 1500m final.

In honouring her request not to reveal her injury, Britain's chief coach, Malcolm Arnold, put himself in an invidious position. A hugely respected coach, he is instinctively protective of athletes in his charge; but on this occasion, his protectiveness went too far.

Arnold was not simply misleading the media. He was misleading the public, whose expectations were heightened on the eve of Holmes's first race by the optimistic predictions of Britain's team captain, Roger Black, and Dave Moorcroft, the executive-chairman elect of the British Athletic Federation - neither of whom had been told of the true situation.

If this becomes a pattern for future events, the image of the sport will be damaged as the public become disaffected and sceptical about attempts to promote British athletics.

The argument for Arnold's action is that no competitor wants to give their rivals a possible psychological advantage. Its application in this case was undermined by the fact that, according to Ireland's world champion, Sonia O'Sullivan, most of her rivals knew of her injury a week beforehand.

Surely it would have been better for Arnold to have indicated that Holmes had an injury problem but was hopeful that it would not adversely affect her: the truth, in fact.