• Rewind to 2004

Holmes' golden double at the home of the Olympics

Jo Carter May 31, 2012
Kelly Holmes became the first Briton in 84 years to win a middle-distance Olympic double © PA Photos

The name Dame Kelly Holmes is frequently mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Olympic greats Sir Steve Redgrave, Daley Thompson and Seb Coe.

But for a week in Athens eight years ago, it could have been a very different story for Holmes, who travelled to Athens aged 34 in her last realistic shot at Olympic glory.

It looked like she may be destined to be the perennial 'nearly woman', a plucky Brit whose career was devastated by injuries - the list of setbacks outweighing her medal tally.

Having narrowly missed out on a bronze medal in Atlanta in 1996 after battling a torn hamstring, she spent several weeks in plaster after the Games with a stress fracture of the shin. She tore an Achilles tendon and ruptured a calf muscle during the heats of the 1500m at the 1997 World Athletics Championships - having battled an ankle injury to even make the start line.

In 1999, she lost all feeling in her right leg after damaging a nerve, and despite tearing a calf muscle three months before the Sydney 2000 Olympics, she endured intense physiotherapy to win a bronze medal in the 800m, defying doctors who advised her to retire.

After the Athens Olympics, Holmes admitted she had self-harmed and considered suicide as she battled setback after setback. But having shrugged off a leg injury the year before, Holmes arrived in Athens in the best shape of her career.

She had initially planned to race only in the 1500m, but victory over Jolanda Ceplak before the Games prompted her to compete in the 800m as well.

Having qualified fastest for the 800m final in a season's best time, Holmes looked to be in good shape and happy with her form heading into the final. But trailing the leaders by around 15 metres after a fast 200m, Holmes looked like she had missed her chance.

"You have all those dreams beforehand, and then something always goes wrong"

She still trailed as the pack hit the bell, but with 300m remaining, the gap began to close as she moved through the field with reigning champion Maria Mutola.

Mutola led as the race entered the finishing straight, but Holmes moved up onto her shoulder, and in a superb display of speed, stamina and determination, the Brit surged into the lead to snatch gold in a time of 1:56.38. Hasna Benhassi edged Ceplak in a photo finish for silver, forcing Mutola into fourth.

"I can't believe it. I didn't realise I had won - I had to see the replay twice to be sure," Holmes said. "You have all those dreams beforehand, and then something always goes wrong. I've just wanted this for so long and dreamed about it all the time. I thought something would go wrong again. It was totally unreal."

Holmes, who had become the first British woman to win an Olympic track title since Sally Gunnell in 1992, and the first since Ann Packer in 1964 to win 800m gold, had the chance to achieve what her childhood hero Coe had never managed - to win the middle-distance double.

If she had flown under the radar in the run-up to her first medal, she was firmly in the limelight as she prepared for the 1500m, her victory having captured the nation's imagination.

Less than 24 hours after her victory lap, she was back on the track for the first round of her stronger event.

"The hardest thing was focusing on the race and pretending that I hadn't already won one," Holmes admitted later.

The iconic image of Holmes crossing the finish line in the 1500m © Getty Images

But the former British Army judo champion showed impressive focus to ease into the final of the 1500m. The 800m had confirmed Holmes as a strong finisher, and feeling confident, she was content to sit at the back of the pack, biding her time.

Russia's Natalya Yevdokimova led the field for the first three laps in a fast-paced final. Holmes was eighth with just 200m remaining, almost 10m behind the leaders, but she picked up the pace on the bend and entered the home straight in third.

With the finish line in sight, Holmes found another gear and streaked clear of her rivals, and in an image that has become synonymous, not only with Holmes but with the Athens Games, she raised her arms her arms in triumph; her face a picture of utter disbelief.

Her time of three minutes 57.9 seconds was a new British record, and she was the first British athlete since Albert Hill in 1920 to win the 800m and 1500m double.

"My career has been such a rollercoaster, but I just kept sticking in there and I knew in my heart that there was something in there for me to fulfil my dreams," said Holmes, who was given the honour of carrying the British flag at the closing ceremony.

Some Olympic gold medals come after a huge amount of hype, while others catch the nation by surprise. Holmes' double gold in Athens will go down in history as one of Britain's greatest sporting moments - alongside Sir Steve Redgrave's five Olympic golds or Chris Hoy's hat-trick in Beijing.

What happened next?
Holmes was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year later in 2004 and was made a Dame in the the following year's New Year's Honours list. In August 2005, Holmes competed in her final race in the UK, finishing eight in the 800m in Sheffield, limping across the finish line and completing a lap of honour on a buggy. She announced her retirement from athletics in December 2005, and has since dedicated much of her time to supporting young athletes.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk