Swimming: Holmes ready for another golden silence

Guy Hodgson on the swimmer who is privileged to be at the Paralympics
Click to follow
The Independent Online
It is fair to say that in different circumstances Chris Holmes would need no introduction. Had he got his six gold medals three weeks earlier in Barcelona in 1992, his face would barely have been off television. Who knows, packets of crisps might have been named after him.

Holmes's relative anonymity is down to one thing: he got his medals at the Paralympic Games instead of the Olympics. In the same pool where Britain had managed only Nick Gillingham's bronze three weeks earlier, he got enough gold to rival Mark Spitz, yet the nation barely noticed. Such is the likely destiny of the people who begin to compete in Atlanta today.

The 24-year-old Birmingham swimmer will attempt to add to his brilliant haul of four years ago when he competes in the swimming events at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Centre in five events. He could be bitter about his lack of recognition but, after initial irritation, he is resigned to it.

"I never went into swimming to make money out of it, and I haven't, so I can't say I'm disappointed," said Holmes, who is blind in one eye and cannot see more than three yards ahead in the other. "People say I could have been very rich by now but I really enjoy what I'm doing and very few can say that. I feel I live a privileged existence.

"It's not just the Paralympics, but sport in general. There are very few people who make money. Everyone says athletics is a rich sport but if you take away Linford Christie and Colin Jackson, that sort of level, there's not much money going round. I know runners at Birchfield Harriers who are fourth or fifth in Britain, and they're in the same boat as me. There's no point getting wound up about it. Enjoy your sport and then move on."

Holmes, a freestyle, backstroke and medley swimmer, took to the sport late but entered it with such impetus that he won two silvers in Seoul as a 16-year-old. He now trains with Gillingham at the City of Birmingham Club, sharing the same coach, Tim Jones, and illustrating that the gap between paralympic swimmers and the able-bodied is closing.

"There's certainly a disadvantage going into turns. You have to be slower," he said. "You can't see other people in the race and in training you can't watch the coach or study other swimmers so you have to develop a stroke on your own. But if you sort out the strokes of the visually impaired early enough there's no reason why they shouldn't set comparable times. You have to remember the Paralympics is an embryonic movement."

Holmes hopes his example will aid paralympic development, although he does not expect anything like the success of four years ago. "It's difficult," he said. "There's always expectation, a pressure that I'm expected to win every time I get in the pool. A lot of people told me to retire after Barcelona because there was no way I could repeat what I did. But I felt I could go faster, and I still love swimming."

If he gets one gold he will have done better than any able-bodied swimmer at the Olympics since Adrian Moorhouse eight years ago. Not that anyone will acknowledge the fact.

Comments