Dame Kelly Holmes
Dame Kelly Holmes is a double Olympic gold medallist and holder of five separate British track records - she is one of the finest athletes this country has ever produced. Now, she has turned her considerable energies towards helping and inspiring others. "I was 12 when I started out and 34 before I achieved my dream. That should give people hope," she says.
Kelly Holmes was born in Pembury, Kent. She started training with Tonbridge Athletics Club at the age of 12, after a PE teacher spotted her potential. Under the tutelage of David Arnold, she won the English schools 1500 metres in only her second season as a middle distance runner. As a young teenager in the mid-1980s, she idolised Sebastian Coe. "It was watching him win in Los Angeles in 1984 that started me dreaming of my own Olympic gold," she says.
Having competed successfully throughout her teens, at 18 Kelly decided to join the Army. Far from turning her back on athletics, she continued to compete – including, famously, in a men's 800m event after it was decided that it would be embarrassing for all concerned if she were to take part in the women's race! In 1992, she returned to the professional athletics circuit; a year later, at the World Championships in Stuttgart, she set a new British record in the 800m.
For the next two years, success followed success. Kelly won gold in the 1500m at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and silver in the European Championships. In 1995, she scooped silver and bronze medals at the World Championships in Gothenburg. However, she was dogged by injury throughout the 90s, citing the calf and Achilles injuries she sustained at the World Championships in 1997 as the lowest point of her career.
Both the worst and the best were yet to come. A stunning return to form saw Kelly take silver in the 1500m at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and bronze in the 800m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In 2002, she won Commonwealth gold followed by bronze at the European Championships. 2003 was another fantastic season, with Kelly adding a further three silver medals to her haul.
Then disaster struck. While at a French training camp preparing for the 2004 Olympic Games, Kelly sustained another serious calf injury – and hit rock bottom. "I'd never experienced such a low before. When you're in it, you can't see a way out." Eventually, Kelly saw a doctor who diagnosed her depression and prescribed herbal remedies to help her. That, combined with sheer hard work and a deep-seated belief that she could still achieve her Olympic dream, saw her overcoming the odds to triumph at Athens in not one but both of her events, the 800m and the 1500m.
That performance guaranteed Kelly her place in history as only the third woman ever to win the double and the first British woman to win two Olympic gold medals. She won numerous awards, including the Laureus World Sports Award 2005 for Sportswoman of the Year and the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. The 2005 New Year's Honours List brought with it the ultimate accolade: a Damehood. Later that year, she announced her retirement from athletics. "I believe there should come a time in your life when you say, "I'm just doing what I want to do now"," she says.
Fortunately for us all, there are still plenty of things Kelly wants to do. She is president of Commonwealth Games England, and was one of the driving forces behind the recent announcement to stage a Nationwide Schools Olympics.
Most recently, she has set up the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust to bring together elite athletes and young people who can benefit from their experiences, "Creating life chances for young people". The Trust's mission is to "inspire young people and unlock life chances for them by improving their skills, knowledge and self belief through support and mentoring projects with sporting champions". "Athletes have so many great attributes," Kelly says. "Drive, dedication, a single-minded pursuit of excellence. Those skills are just as important to businesses as formal qualifications – and they can make a huge positive difference to young people along the way."
The Academy of Sport at LSBU has started to work with the Trust to explore the possibility of placing former athletes onto community facing sports boards where not only will they will be able to impart their considerable knowledge to positively affect the community but also learn from their involvement in the delivery chain for community sports.
For her drive, dedication and commitment, not only to achieving excellence herself but to enabling others to achieve it too, Dame Kelly Holmes was awarded an Honorary Fellowship at London South Bank University.