Holmes eases to final of 1,500m

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Who would have thought a week ago that we would be in the position of speculating on an Olympic middle-distance double for a British athlete for the first time since Albert Hill in 1920?

Seb Coe never did it, neither did his sparring partner Steve Ovett. But Kelly Holmes stands on the verge of outstripping the Olympic heroes whose example made her a runner. Holmes had been downplaying her chances so much that we were tempted to believe her, always a dangerous thing to do with athletes.

The Olympic 800m champion contented herself with trotting along at the back of the field for the first two laps of her 1,500m semi-final on Thursday, an unmistakeable sign of supreme self-confidence. By the bell, she had eased into contention and her opponents had already played into her hands with their slowish pace.

At the head of the finishing straight, Holmes was still not among the first five who would automatically qualify for Saturday's final. But any doubts were dispelled within 50 metres.

Without noticeably increasing her effort, she cruised past all but Natalya Yevdokimova of Russia, winner in 4min 04.66sec, to give herself pole position for this evening. Maria Cioncan of Romania and last year's world champion Tatyana Tomashova of Russia will be the biggest threats to those double ambitions.

Holmes revealed after her race that her success was built on the copious quantities of cashew nuts she has eaten between races, and that one of the biggest dangers to her double bid was pre-occupation with her status as 800m champion, as she spent a lot of time stroking her medal in her room.

Elsewhere there was disappointment for British athletes. Chris Tomlinson briefly raised hopes of a long jump medal but after a fine opening jump of 8.23m his challenge fell away as four men went past him, including Dwight Phillips, who won gold with 8.59m. Tomlinson finished in a highly creditable sixth place.

Also out of the medal hunt was 800m runner Ricky Soos, who exceeded all expectations by progressing from his heat earlier in the week with a personal best. But the pace of a semi-final dominated by Denmark's Wilson Kipeketer attempting to win the one important gong to elude him was too much for Soos, who finished sixth.

Meanwhile, Paula Radcliffe is on the start-list for the 10,000m on Friday evening, and, although the official word is that she will decide this morning, it seems fairly clear that she will compete in an attempt to expunge the disappointment of her withdrawal from the marathon.

It was ironic that the highest temperature of the Athenian summer, 39°C, on Sunday, which obviously was a large contributor to her disorientation, was followed by one of the most temperate days, about 10 degrees cooler with the meltemi breeze blowing. It has gradually got warmer again but, with the race at 21.50 local time this evening, the likelihood is of a temperature well below 30°C.

A glance at the start list may be an additional incentive to Radcliffe. Last year's world champion, Berhane Adere of Ethiopia, is injured, and her colleague, the twice former champion Derartu Tulu, is not the force she was.

On the other hand, with the hitherto unconsidered Meseret Defar winning the 5,000m earlier this week, there is always going to be an Ethiopian or three to consider. It was never going to be an easy decision.

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