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Kelly Holmes Biography

Schoolgirl Champion, A Career Blighted by Injury, Fulfilled Olympic Dreams


Track athlete, middle distance runner

Holmes, Kelly, photograph. © Reuters/Corbis

Despite problems with injury Kelly Holmes was one of Great Britain's most promising track athletes of the 1990s and the first few years of the twenty-first century. Although she won medals in previous Olympic, Commonwealth, and World Championship competitions, her greatest career success came in the 2004 Athens Olympics when she took gold medals in the women's 800 meters and 1500 meters. Holmes set personal best times in both finals, running against strong opposition. In the 1500m final seven of the athletes set personal best times, while Holmes's winning time of 3 minutes 57.90 seconds in the 1500m final broke her own United Kingdom record, set in June 1997. By winning two gold medals at the Olympic games in Athens in 2004, Holmes became the first British athlete to achieve the Olympic double since Albert Hill in Antwerp in 1920 and became arguably the most successful British track athlete of all time.

Schoolgirl Champion

Kelly Holmes was born on April 19, 1970, in Pembury, Kent, a small town in southeast England. She was raised by her mother, Pam Norman (now Thomson) after her father, Jamaican-born Derrick Holmes, walked out; Holmes was two years old when her mother married Michael Norris. She has two half brothers from this marriage and a half-sister from her mother's second marriage, to Gary Thomson. Holmes had a happy childhood, attending the Hugh Christie School in Tonbridge, Kent, where she was encouraged to take up running. Holmes returns to the school each year to set the students "Kelly's Challenge."

Holmes showed exceptional ability as a young athlete, winning the English Schools' 1500m title at junior and senior levels. With encouragement from her family, she began training with coach Dave Arnold at the age of twelve. By age fourteen, she declared that she wanted to be an Olympic athlete. But in 1988, because of a lack of funding for British sports, Holmes opted for a career outside of athletics and joined the British Army. At first she was a truck driver, but eventually became a PT (Physical Training) instructor, where she reached the rank of sergeant. Holmes had a reputation in the army for being tough and single-minded in everything she did, earning the respect of other recruits and the officers above her. Major Peter Lyons of the Army Athletic Association told the Guardian newspaper: "Nobody got away with anything under her. She was firm and fair…She was very dedicated, very determined."

In 1992 Holmes was beginning to feel frustrated as she watched women she had competed against on the track become successful athletes. It was after watching Lisa York, a former rival, compete in the 3000m at the Barcelona Olympics that she took up serious training again. It soon became clear that she had the talent to compete on a world stage and in her first year she competed in international under-23 competitions. By 1993 she held the United Kingdom and Amateur Athletic Association of England (AAA) 800m titles and was soon winning medals on a regular basis. She won her first major 800m gold medal in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia, a title she took again in Manchester in 2002. But despite her success Holmes remained in the army until 1997, sometimes returning from a major athletics competition to go straight on guard duty. In army championships Holmes was allowed to compete in the men's 1500m races because none of the women competitors could match her. She also excelled at volleyball, was the army's female Judo champion, and at one meeting won the 800m, the 3000m, and was a member of a winning relay team.

A Career Blighted by Injury

After success in major competitions there was the promise of more to come. In 1995 Holmes set the British records over 800m and 1000m, and took a bronze in the world championships in Gothenburg. Despite breaking the British 1000m record for a second time and becoming the fastest British woman over 1500m in 1996, Holmes encountered difficulties. A stress fracture meant she could only manage fourth place in the 1500m at the Atlanta Olympics, missing out on a medal by a tenth of a second. When the games were over Holmes spent many weeks with her injured leg in plaster. More bad luck followed. In 1997 Holmes became the UK record holder over 1500m and favorite to win the event at the world championships in Athens. But she suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in her heat and finished almost 200m behind the rest of the field.

For the next five years Holmes battled with injury and illness. Although she managed to take the silver medal in the 800m in the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the bronze medal for the same distance at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Holmes admitted that she had reached a low point and was struggling. In 2001, the same year she underwent stomach surgery, she could only manage sixth place in the 800m at the world championships and did not compete in the 1500m. She told Peter Sissons on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost talk show in 2002 that for the previous three years she had stuck to the 800m because injury had prevented her from doing the stamina training needed for the longer event. She has since said that she considered giving up competitive running after her success at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, where she took back the 800m title.

At a Glance …

Born Kelly Holmes on April 19, 1970, in Pembury, Kent. Education: Hugh Christie Comprehensive School, Tonbridge, Kent.

Career: British Army, first in the in the Women's Royal Army Corps, as a truck driver, then in the Adjutants General's Corps, as a PT (Physical Training) instructor, 1988-97; track athlete, 1992–.

Memberships: Ealing, Southall, and Middlesex Athletics Club.

Awards: Army Track Athlete of the Year, 1989-97; European Championships, Helsinki, silver medal, for 1500m, 1994; Commonwealth Games, Victoria, gold medal, for 1500m, 1994; World Championships, Gothenburg, silver medal, for 1500m, and bronze medal, for 800m, 1995; Commonwealth Games, Kuala Lumpur, silver medal, for 1500m, 1998; Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), 1998;Olympic Games, Sydney, bronze medal, for 800m, 2000; Commonwealth Games, Manchester, gold medal, for 1500m, 2002; European Championships, Munich, bronze medal, for 800m, 2002; World Indoor Championships, silver medal, for 1500m, 2003; World Championships, silver medal, for 800m, 2003; Olympic Games, Athens, gold medals, for 800m and 1500m, 2004.

Addresses: Agent—Jane Cowmeadow Communications and Management, 604 Erico House, 93-99 Upper Richmond Road, London, SW15 2TG, United Kingdom.

But 2002 proved to be a turning point for the then 32-year-old Holmes. That year she also won her tenth national title for 1500m and a European bronze medal in the 800m. She also switched coaches, making a fresh start with Margo Jennings after almost 18 years with Dave Arnold. Holmes began training in South Africa alongside close friend and world-class 800m runner Maria Mutola. In the build-up to the 2003 season Holmes was optimistic. That year she set personal bests over 600m, 800m (indoors), and 1500m (indoors), as well as taking second place in the 800m at the world championships in Paris and the world indoor silver medal at 1500m.

Fulfilled Olympic Dreams

As a child Holmes admired the outstanding British middle-distance runner of the 1980s, Sebastian Coe, whose win at the 1984 Olympics to retain his 1500m title inspired her as a child athlete. Although she dreamed of matching his success the years of injury and underperforming suggested it would not be possible. Even so Holmes trained hard throughout the winter of 2003 and found herself in the spring of 2004 fully fit and "in the best shape of my life." In the build-up to the Athens Olympics she won four 1500m races in Super Grand Prix meetings in Europe, the 1500m Grand Prix race at Eugene, Oregon, as well as the Golden League 1500m competition in Zurich.

Still uncertain of her ability to perform well in both 800m and 1500m races, Holmes decided to race in the Olympic 800m only two days before the event. As a former Olympic bronze medalist she was among the favorites for a medal placement, but her recent form in the 1500m had been better than at 800m and the line-up for the final was strong, including four of the top ten women over the distance in 2004 and the African record holder, Mutola. Seemingly unphased by the pressure Holmes ran a perfect race, taking the lead on the final bend and bringing the field home to a tight finish in 1-minute 56.38-seconds, a personal best.

With the 1500m competition only six days away Holmes began her preparation with the 800m gold medal dominating her thoughts. She told the Guardian newspaper that in the days after the 800m final she had looked at the medal every day and was an "emotional wreck" for the whole week leading up to the 1500m. Holmes again began the race from the back of the field, but matched the fast pace set of the Russian competitors, who included Tatyana Tomashova, the world champion. She moved towards the front on the final lap and took the lead on the home straight to finish in 3-minutes 57.90-seconds, a British record. By winning Olympic gold medals in 800m and 1500m races Holmes became only the third woman in history to achieve the middle-distance double, the others being Tatyana Kazankina of the Soviet Union in 1976, and Svetlana Masterkova of Russia in 1996. She is the only British athlete to have won two gold medals at a single Olympics since Albert Hill in 1920.



The Guardian (London and Manchester, UK), August 27, 2004; August 30, 2004.

The Independent (London), August 30, 2004.

The Observer (London), August 29, 2004.

The Scotsman, September 2, 2004.


"Kelly Holmes Profile," UK Athletics, www.ukathletics.net/vsite/vcontent/page/custom/0,8510,4854-132151-133459-21084-77218-custom-item,00.html (September 15, 2004).

"Kelly Holmes, Athlete, and Steve Parry, Swimmer," BBC Breakfast with Frost (transcript of television interview by Peter Sissons), http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/breakfast_with_frost/2142402.stm (September 15, 2004).

"Mother's Joy at 'Amazing' Kelly," BBC News Online, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/3608878.stm (September 15, 2004).

"Holmes Keeps on Running," BBC Sport World Edition, http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/olympics_2004/athletics/3609426.stm (September 15, 2004).

"The Golden Girl on a Publicity Whirl," BBC News Online, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/3639640.stm (September 15, 2004).

—Chris Routledge

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