Continuing with my blogs on British women Olympic champions, today I am looking at Dame Kelly Holmes.
Kelly Holmes is probably one of Britain’s best known and best loved athletes. Kelly was born in Pembury, Kent. She started training for athletics at the age of 12, joining Tonbridge Athletics Club, and went on to win the English schools 1500 metres in her second season in 1983. Her hero at the time was British middle distance runner Sebastian Coe, and she was inspired by Coe’s successful 1984 Summer Olympics defence of his 1500 m crown.
However Kelly decided to join the British Army at the age of 18. She had left school two years earlier, working initially as a shop assistant in a sweet shop and later as a nursing assistant for disabled patients. In the Army, she was initially a lorry driver in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, later becoming a basic physical training instructor (PTI). Kelly became British Army judo champion, and in Army athletics events once competed in the men’s 800 metres 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. At another event, she competed in and won an 800 metres, a 3000 metres and a relay race all in a single day.
Kelly watched the 1992 Summer Olympics on television, and seeing Lisa York in the heats of the 3000 metres, an athlete whom she had competed against, and beaten, 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.
Kelly went on to win the 1500 m at the 2002 Commonwealth Games and the 800 m bronze at the Munich European Championships that year. In 2003 she took the silver in the 1500 m at the World Indoor Championships and the 800 m silver medals at the World Championships and first World Athletics Final. Kelly’s greatest achievement though came in her last major championship; the Athens Olympics in 2004. She turned in a double gold medal-winning performance, finishing as the 800 m and 1500 m Olympic Champion.
Since her retirement Kelly was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2005 New Year Honours in recognition of her astounding achievements in athletics forBritain.