‘I beat people who I know cheated, and it made me feel good,’ says British running legend Kelly Holmes
Athens Olympic gold medallist was in Hong Kong as part of the GREAT Britain promotional campaign
Kelly Holmes offers up a palpable sense of resigned disappointment when talk turns to the state of her sport today.
She knows there is no escaping the topic, what with Russia freshly banned from Rio, assorted legalities still to be explored in that particular case and with the seemingly constant stream of claims and counter claims that continue to taint athletics at every turn. But Holmes also knows, and readily accepts, that her place in the firmament, thanks to those gold medal-winning exploits in the 800m and the 1,500m at the 2004 Athens Olympics, means she will forever be a spokesperson for her sport.
“As a fan, now, looking on from the grandstands I feel the frustration, too,” Holmes offers. “When someone does something fantastic on the track, I immediately question the result, just like everyone else does these days. I hate that fact and I wish I didn’t but that’s what has happened to the sport.
“What’s needed is for the authorities to come down hard, and maybe that will be the positive that is coming out of what is happening with Russia now. Maybe it will finally make people stop the cheating.”
Holmes says she knew – across a career that brought also an Olympic 800m bronze in Sydney (2000), as well as two Commonwealth 1,500m golds (1994, 2002) over almost a decade at the top – that there were competitors who were using drugs to improve their performances. But such is the intensely individual nature of track and field events that she says she could never allow what they were doing to affect her own efforts.
“You have to be so completely focused on what you are doing that any distraction like that – like ‘Look what they are doing!’ – could impact on my performance, and I wasn’t going to allow that to happen,” says Holmes.
“I know that there were times when people beat me who were cheating and I know that there were times when I beat people who I knew were cheating – and that just made the win feel all that more special. To be honest I never really got it, how you could stand there on the podium as a winner but as a winner who knew that [they] had cheated to get there.
“I just don’t understand how a person could do that. So, yeah, the sooner it all comes to an end the better. We just have to all hope that it will, one day, come to an end.”
And with that we can turn to the positives of Holmes’ visit to town – and of her life. The 46-year-old comes to the British Consulate fresh from training sessions with groups of four to 11 year-olds at Kellett School before she’ll head into an evening talking to and mingling with local sports-related business types and community leaders as part of the GREAT Britain promotional campaign.
Holmes is still buzzing from the afternoon’s experiences with the kids, eager to talk about the experiences her athletic career afforded her, and the opportunities, and hopefully that her visit will achieve its objective – to inspire.
“I see those kids and I see the excitement I got when I was their age,” she says. “I know that sometimes it can be just one person who pushes you down that road – it certainly was for me. When I was 12 my PE teacher was the one who told me I could be great – which was just not something that I had felt I could ever be. She gave me that belief and that is so important. I always felt intimidated in the classroom and it wasn’t I got out on the track that I felt I belonged. I was good at it and it felt good doing it and that’s why life is about finding your place, whatever that might be.
“But when you are a junior your dreams are just fluffy clouds. It’s when you hit the senior ranks that you realise you have to meet certain times to get anywhere and that you really learn about competition and training and the sacrifices you have to make. Then – if you have the talent – it depends on how far you want to go. A silver can be a disappointment and a bronze can be a success.”
Holmes famously battled a series of debilitating injuries and battling dark periods of self-doubt before, she admits, surprising herself in Athens, first with a win in the 800m that was never really supposed to happen (she’d only decided to enter the event days before the Olympics kicked off) and by then again racing through the field from the final bend to seal the 1,500m, and secure her legend.
“I had never felt so good, or felt so injury free and I was I guess just in a special place with body and mind,” she says.
“I had lost so many races and although I felt down and disappointed in the end I learned that feeling was a good one as it meant that I wanted to achieve more and be the best that I could be. I guess that’s what I try to tell people on trips such as this. You learn from things that don’t go right and that’s not just in sport, it’s the same in life.”