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20 Apr 2015
IOC News

Holmes hits the jackpot in Athens

Great Britain’s Kelly Holmes reflects on her golden double in the 800m and 1,500m at Athens 2004.

Born on 19 April 1970, Kelly Holmes took up running at the age of 12, inspired by the success of her compatriot and middle-distance great Steve Ovett. Six years later, she joined the British Army, where she went on to become a physical training instructor and achieved the rank of sergeant.

Holmes was prompted to take up athletics again after watching Barcelona 1992 on TV, and despite suffering a series of injuries in the years that followed she reached the 800m final at Atlanta 1996, where she finished fourth. Deciding to devote herself full-time to running the following year, she returned to the Olympic 800m final at Sydney 2000, this time clinching a bronze.

The determined Holmes’ long and circuitous career would reach its pinnacle at Athens 2004, by which time she had turned 34. Competing in both the 800m and 1,500m, she became only the third woman in history – after USSR’s Tatyana Kazankina at Montreal 1976 and Russia’s Svetlana Masterkova at Atlanta 1996 – to win gold in both events at the same Games.

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Her recipe for success at both distances was to hang off the back of the bunch and then turn on the power in the final 200m, a policy that took her to the top of the podium.

In recognition of her achievements on the track, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire the following year.

Reflecting on her golden double in the Greek capital, she said: “In 2004 I was 34 years old, and I think going into that Olympic Games I knew it was going to be my last Olympics. The preparation and the focus was all about achieving my long-term dream, which was 20 years of wanting to be an Olympic champion. I went into those Olympics probably in the best shape of my life. I had a brilliant team around me, and so actually the energy and atmosphere around those Games for me was really positive.”

The first of Holmes’ two Athens golds came in the 800m. Sticking firmly to her race plan, she dropped some 30 metres off the pace in the early stages, a situation she described as “quite scary”. By the time she hit the back straight on the second lap, however, she had pulled level with the leaders and went into the final bend right on the shoulder of Mozambique’s Maria Mutola, the reigning Olympic champion and the favourite for gold. Though barged by Mutola as she approached the final straight, Holmes was determined to keep her poise in the sprint for the line.

“The hardest part of the race was probably the last 50 metres… In training there was a technical element I kept working on which was to relax my shoulders when I was under pressure, and I remember doing that and saying to myself: ‘Relax’.”

Holmes’ training paid off as she held off a late surge from Morocco’s Hasna Benassi and Slovenia’s Jolanda Ceplak to take victory in a time of 1:56.38, with the great Mutola coming in fourth in the tightest of finishes.

Describing her sense of disbelief at winning the gold, Holmes said: “I almost came into this kind of, ‘No! I couldn’t have won!’ I’m looking at the slow-motion, and at the same time there was a British guy, a photographer, on the inside of the track, and he was jumping up and down with his cameras around him and he was going: ‘Kelly, you’ve won!’. And that kind of gave me a second sort of ‘Ah, you know, done it’. And it was the most surreal moment, but one, of course, I won’t ever forget.”

Holmes secured another unforgettable victory in the 1,500m final five days later, stopping the clock at 3:57.90 to win the title from Russia’s Tatiana Tomasova and Romania’s Maria Cioncan.

Rightly proud of her achievements, Holmes capped her memorable Games by carrying the British flag at the following day’s Closing Ceremony.

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