Running on her toes
As a little girl she loved to run with her dog . By the time Kelly Holmes was 12 she was training at the Tonbridge athletic club in Kent, and winning championships, running as she always would, on her toes.
But there was no money in her family to go on and train, so when she was 18, Kelly went into the Army, driving 4-ton trucks and training as a PT instructor. There she won races against men. In 1992 she decided that she had to give running one more try. The Army agreed to give her an easier commission, and she made her international running debut in 1993.
Fast forward, through years of running, winning, becoming injured and not winning. She had always been outgoing and very confident, but she sustained a series of injuries that would have devastated other athletes. Through it all, she kept training.
In 1997 injuries devastated her chances at the World Championships. Four years later injuries confined her to just six weeks’ training before the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She managed to win a bronze in the 800m, but her determination to win despite pain and injury was reaching a dead-end. Now turning 30, Kelly had only one Olympics left to win.
Sally Gunnell, a Barcelona gold medalist observed that “She never stopped believing she could do it.” But Kelly had other problems.
She disliked criticism; she lost her cool under pressure; she made the wrong decisions while running; and cared too much what other people thought.
Her problems sound familiar to at least a few of us. Holmes faced them, and faced the fact she had to change. She made a daring move.
A daring move
The decade's great 800m runner was Maria Mutola of Mozambique, who had dominated the race for a decade. Kelly began working with Mutola's coach, Margo Jennings. She moved to South Africa, and into Maria Mutola’s house. Enduring the speculations of the press about their relationship, she trained with focus and determination. Her motivation was simple: “I don't ever want to live with regrets that I never gave my athletics 100%.”
In August, she travelled to Athens for the 2004 Olympics. In an unexpected move, she decided to run the 800-metre as well as the 1500m at the 2004 Olympics. Mutola and Ceplak were favored, and took off fast from the start. Kelly set, and kept, her own pace. Then she drew on her reserves of energy, unleashed all her powers, came from behind to race into the lead ahead of Mutola and took the gold.
She had run what Sebastian “Seb” Coe later called a “perfect race.”
On August 28, Kelly ran the 1500-metre race. Again she maintained her pace, not an easy discipline when the entire field is running away from you. She was at the rear of the field when she drew on her reserves and raced ahead to take the lead in the final straight, holding off the Russian world champion and accomplishing the rare feat of taking a double gold.
The day after her victory Kelly Holmes carried the Union flag at the closing ceremony of the 2004 Games, and was cheered by 40,000 people when she came home to Tonbridge.
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