Dame Kelly Holmes, who was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the New Year Honours List for 2005, is a retired middle-distance runner. After years of struggling with injury, Holmes is best remembered for her double Olympic triumph on the track at the 2004 Summer Olympics, where she won gold medals in both the 800 metres and 1,500 metres at the age of 34.
Originally, Holmes had intended to contest just the 1,500 metres but, buoyed by a victory over Slovenian Jolanda Čeplak at the Birmingham International Meeting, a month or so before the Olympic 800-metre final, she made a last-minute decision to run the two-lap event as well. Reflecting on her choice, she said, ‘For the first time in seven years I was having to make my own decisions about racing, rather than having them forced upon me by injuries.’
In the final of the 800 metres, Holmes produced a late surge, which carried her to victory, ahead of Hasna Benhassi of Morocco and Čeplak, in a time of 1 minute 56.38 seconds, her best time for nine years. Defending champion, and favourite, Maria Mutola of Mozambique could only finish fourth. Five days later, in the final of the 1,500 metres, Holmes employed similar tactics but, with her confidence at an all-time high, broke her own British record, set seven years earlier, and came home ahead of Russian Tatyana Tomashova and Romanian Maria Cioncan in a time of 3 minutes 57.90 seconds. In so doing, she became the oldest woman to win either the 800 metres or the 1,500 metres at the Olympic Games.
The historic double proved just reward for Holmes, who had endured a particularly trying athletics career. At the 1996 Summer Olympics, she finished fourth in the final of the 800 metres, despite a stress fracture and four years later, in Sydney, won a bronze medal in the same event, despite a ruptured calf that limited her training to just six weeks.