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28 Aug 2004

Golden oldie Holmes surges to double glory

Kelly Holmes was a former physical training instructor in the British Army who had gone into full-time athletics after seeing one of her schoolgirl rivals qualify for the British Olympic team for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Four years later, Holmes came fourth in the 800m in Atlanta, then took bronze at Sydney 2000 and reached the 1,500m final. Despite being 30 at that point, she was convinced that she was getting better and set her sights firmly on greater success in Athens in 2004.

In the run-up to the Games, Holmes lived and trained with one of her closest rivals, the Mozambique star Maria Mutola, who was the defending Olympic champion. The two friends were both aware that Athens represented possibly their final chance of Olympic glory.

Holmes was 34 when she arrived in Athens, and nobody of that age had ever won either the 800m or 1,500m title. But she was both determined and focused. She was also renowned for her pace into the finish, which had become her biggest weapon.

First up was the 800m final. The race started at a quick pace, thanks to the USA’s Jearl Miles-Clark making an early break in the first lap. As the chasing pack entered the home straight for the first time Holmes was in last place, while with 200m to go Miles-Clark still led. By this stage the American had the pack on her shoulder, though, and going into the home straight Mutola sped past her. Holmes was now just behind her and duly produced her powerful surge into the finish to take the lead. Mutola was also passed by Morocco's Hasna Benhassi and Slovenia's Jolanda Čeplak, who were both closing on Holmes. However, it was the British runner who crossed the line first – clearly ecstatic in victory.

Five days later, Holmes used the same tactics in the 1,500m final. She held back for much of the race to conserve her energy for the closing sprint, and was in last place at one point. With 200m left she was up to fifth, but observers wondered whether she had left herself with too much to do.

Was her acceleration really that strong? The answer was yes. She powered through the final curve and grabbed the lead, never to let it go. Holmes won by 0.22 seconds, becoming the oldest 1,500m Olympic champion in the same week she became the oldest 800m champion.

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