Holmes leaves worries behind

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When things are going well, most people would just sit back and enjoy it, but that is the point at which Kelly Holmes really begins to worry.

Holmes has been injured so much over the dozen years of her career as an international athlete that she has come to see incapacity as her natural state. Hence her crisis of confidence a month ago when nothing was wrong. And which is why her Olympic middle-distance double, achieved when she added the 1,500m gold to 800m glory on Saturday was prefaced by so much doubt.

At her celebratory press conference on Sunday, she said: “It was the first time in such a long time that I was focusing directly on the races and what I wanted to achieve, and because this year meant so much, I had so much expectation.

“When I focused on the fact that I might [double up], I was messing up races, because I so desperately wanted to get it right. So I was never relaxed in my races, and they were never enjoyable. I was just so negative about myself.”

For once, those who support her were less worried than she was, since it was clear, both from her two pre-Olympic victories, and from her opening heat of the 800m that here was a woman in the form of her life. And so it proved.

The key to the double was a time-trial during the pre-Olympic training camp in Cyprus, results of which she kept even from her coach, Margo Jennings. That was because Holmes recognises that Jennings owes first allegiance in 800m matters to Maria Mutola, champion in Sydney and Holmes' former training partner. Had the Mozambican heard that Holmes had improved her 400m best twice within 10 minutes, from 53.8sec to 53.1sec classic preparation for 800m then she might have foreseen her demise.

Holmes ran both finals magisterially, and for once, the bald statistics tell the story. Two minutes and four minutes are the elite thresholds for the women's middle distances. In the 800m last week Holmes ran her second fastest time, 1min 56.38sec, and led seven women under two minutes. The 1,500m on Saturday evening was even more striking.

Her opponents realised they needed to stretch her, accordingly Natalya Yevdokimova of Russia set a cracking pace. But it was to no avail. Holmes cruised past all her rivals in the straight, and set a national record of 3min 57.90sec, while six women behind her also ran personal bests. Holmes' elevation to the ranks of Olympic heroes will be celebrated in rousing fashion back in Tonbridge, Kent. She will tour the streets where she has run since she was a 12-year-old in an open-top bus.

Britain's other success on Saturday was of a different order. Relay medals, even golden ones, are a consolation prize. No matter how much the sprint quartet might rejoice over their defeat of a US squad featuring the 100m and 200m gold medallists and two other sub-10 second men, this victory cannot obscure the fact that this is the first time since 1976 that there was not a Briton in the 100m final.

British sprinters have flattered to deceive for too long, but the better consolation is the thought that the relay gold may inspire them to greater things at an individual level in future.

Steve Backley, meanwhile, retired, having finally beaten Jan Zelezny in an Olympics. But, despite a season's best of 84.13m, he could not add to his three Olympic medals, finishing fourth.

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