An Interview With Kelly Holmes: Part IPosted on: 25 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Britain’s double Olympic gold champion Dame Kelly Holmes speaks to 50connect about her glittering career in part one of our exclusive interview.
Nobody will forget the night of Saturday, 28th August when Kelly Holmes etched her name into the record books by winning two gold medals for Great Britain at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
With the Beijing Games fast approaching, Kelly speaks exclusively to 50connect about the sporting icon that inspired her and the personal struggles she overcame on her road to sporting greatness.
Now 38, Great Britain’s most successful women’s athlete still finds it hard to believe what she achieved in Athens.
“The time seems to have flown by and Beijing is just around the corner. I’ve done a lot since the Olympics so I guess time really has gone quick but really it doesn’t seem that long ago,” says Kelly.
“Even today when people come up to me and talk about the Olympics I just can’t stop smiling.”
“I’m so proud of what I achieved. I had two dreams growing up, one was to be in the Army and the other was to win Olympic gold and I’ve managed to do them both.”
2004 was the first time Kelly had gone to the Olympics with a genuine chance of winning.
“I had no injuries and I felt pretty good so to win the 800m was unbelievable, but to then go and win the 1500m, well you can’t describe those feelings.”
“All I remember after crossing the line was just thinking “oh my god, I’m an Olympic champion” and I think the big screen and TV cameras picked up on that. They were and always will be incredible memories for me; you just can’t get tired of them.”
Coming home from Athens, Kelly was greeted by over 80,000 fans on a home-coming parade around the streets of her home towns Hildenborough and Tonbridge.
When asked to compare both iconic moments, there is only one winner according to the champion.
“For me the parade was just the best thing ever. To be recognised by people in the town you’ve grown up in and applauded in that way was just mind-blowing.”
“I really can’t thank those people enough. I used to be just the girl who could run, but suddenly I’m being paraded around town as an Olympic hero. It is still the memory that sticks out, and the one I keep closest to me, it was just amazing.”
Kelly went on to win the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year in 2004, saying she achieved her goals after “twenty years of dreaming” and asserted the award as “the biggest sporting honour your country can give you.”
She was then presented with a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in March 2005 by the Queen at Buckingham Palace and previously appointed a Member of the Military Division of the same order (MBE) in 1998 for services to the British Army.
You never expect to meet the Queen for being an athlete
In August 2005 she competed in her final race in the UK but her Achilles tendon injury disrupted her progress and by December 2005 Kelly announced her retirement from athletics.
“So many things happened after Athens it was hard at times to keep your focus and concentrate on what my job was,” she explains.
“The awards were overwhelming. You never expect to meet the Queen for being an athlete and the BBC Sports Personality award meant so much as it’s voted for by the public. They are really, really incredible achievements and they still feel like a fairytale to me.”
However, getting to Olympic standard was not straightforward for Kelly. There was always a huge hurdle after numerous setbacks along the way.
Starting athletics as a 12-year-old at her local Tonbridge Athletics Club on the advice of her school PE teacher, Kelly was already hitting the headlines just a year later when winning the English schools 1500m.
If her mind wasn’t made up about pursuing a career in athletics, it was when she saw Lord Coe winning his second 1500m gold at the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984.
“I guess it was Sebastian Coe I tried emulate and I suppose you can blame him for getting me into athletics.”
“I saw him win in the 1980 Olympics but it didn’t mean too much to me then as I was still quite young. But by the time he won the 1500m in 1984 I knew I wanted to run and win in the Olympic Games.”
From that day I wanted to be an Olympic champion
“Seeing his face and how happy he was, knowing all his hard work had paid off really inspires you. He really was my biggest role model and from that day I wanted to be an Olympic champion.”
“At that time it was still just a dream but luckily my work paid off in the end too.”
Later, Kelly turned her back on athletics, joining the British Army at the age of 18, having left school two years earlier.
Initially a lorry driver in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, she transferred to the Adjutant General’s Corps as a physical trainer in 1992, reaching the rank of sergeant.
During the first four years she also became British Army judo champion, and in Army athletics events, Kelly once competed in the men’s 800m at a meeting, as it was considered that for her to run in the women’s event would be too embarrassing for the other competitors.
It was during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that she once again fell in love with middle-distance running.
Seeing Lisa York in the heats of the 3,000m, an athlete whom she had competed against and beaten, Kelly decided to return to athletics.
For several years she combined both athletics and her employment in the Army until increased funding allowed her to become a full-time athlete in 1997.
“I loved being in the Army and what I did, but I guess seeing Lisa running spurred me on to get back into athletics.”
“It gave me the push, the belief and confidence to realise my Olympic dream.”
But it wasn’t as plain sailing as Kelly had hoped.
Dogged by fitness and injury problems she was also forced to overcome severe depression.
At least once, she considered suicide, but she eventually sought help from a doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression.
While she couldn’t use anti-depressants because it would affect her performance, she began using herbal tablets as well meditating.
“It was a very rough time for me. I’d given up a lot, but because of the funding I wanted to run the fastest I could ever possibly run and reach the Olympics.”
“The injuries made training and running almost impossible. I began to sink into myself and they were the really low points of my life.”
“Being a professional athlete can be an extremely stressful and difficult thing to do. There are great highs but then I also had great lows.”
“I had almost every injury under the sun, then I was also getting heavy colds, flu’s, glandular fever, everything was just throwing itself at me and I found it hard to cope with.”
“It’s very easy to look at someone who’s achieved at a high level and think it was an easy journey or they were blessed and gifted and they could do whatever they wanted to do, but it’s actually not at all like that.”
“All I wanted to do was run and at that time the best thing I did was to talk to someone.”
By Mark O'Haire
Next week Dame Kelly speaks about the upcoming Beijing Olympics, and shares her thoughts on who she thinks are Britain’s best medal hopes and discusses the effect of the Olympics coming to London in 2012.
For more information on Kelly and what she's doing now, visit her official website at www.doublegold.co.uk.
Where were you when Kelly Holmes won double Olympic gold in 2004? Who will challenge for Olympic gold in Beijing for Team GB?
Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below. Alternatively, share your thoughts in the 50connect forums.
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