INTERVIEW WITH KELLY HOLMES in LONDON
May 3, 2012
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Can you tell us your memories of Athens in 2004 and what those Olympics meant to you?
You know Athens in 2004 obviously for me was the pinnacle of my sporting career. I achieved my dream finally after 20 years of having that first inspiration by watching an Olympic Games myself and 2004 is something of course I’ll never ever forget. I actually never went back to Athens post 2004, which was quite strange, and then I finally got to go back just recently.
It was a surreal experience because I went into the stadium and of course the last time I was in there I was crossing the line for the 1,500 metres final and then carrying the British flag out in the closing ceremony. So here I went to an empty stadium but the feeling that I got was quite emotional because I know the impact that it had on my life. I love the Olympic Games and the modern Olympic Games started in Athens in 1896, so for me going back to the birth place of the Games and winning my medals there meant a lot.
Did the Athens Olympics change your life?
Absolutely. Athens definitely changed my life in a way that everything that I’d ever worked for became worthwhile, every kind of moment that I pushed my body to the extreme, every tear that I cried, you know it was all worth it after I won my medals. But you know I sit here with two, but I never dreamed of winning two gold medals which is the strange thing.
I won the 800 metres first. I believed I could win a medal in the 800 metres because over my career I had won ten medals at major championships and five had been in the 800 metres. And I’d actually won a bronze medal in the 2000 Olympic Games. So I believed that I could win a medal, but I never once for one second believed it could be gold.
And when I’ve crossed the line first, probably by the thickness of this shirt, I remember celebrating and, even though I’ve watched it a lot of times, I still remember doing it, you know putting my arms up, thinking that I’d won.
Then at the end of the stadium you have the big screen and it plays slow-mo [replays] but of course because it’s slow motion they’re still playing the last ten or 20 metres of the race, so I’m standing there, with my hands up in the air, thinking “oh, did I [win]?”
And I remember looking on the inside of the track where there was a guy who was standing there with his cameras, he’s a British guy and he was jumping up and down and his cameras were going off around his neck and I’m looking and he’s shouting at me “you’ve won”, and that’s when I really react. I actually still remember all of that.
And then the 1,500 metres is actually what I dreamed of winning since I was 14, I mean I honestly did. It’s quite hard to describe to people how embedded in me it was to actually try and be the Olympic champion. It’s why I never gave up. And when I crossed the line first, oh my gosh, it was just, just the most amazing experience you can ever go through and it was a ton weight just lifted off my shoulders.
I remember sitting in the press conference saying: “I can now be me”. Because it was weird how you try so hard to do something, you put your life into it and it almost overpowers you. But finally getting that was the best feeling ever.
If it hadn’t been for Athens, what do think you might have been doing now?
Well, I dread to think. I might be still trying to run. Could you imagine if I hadn’t won my two gold medals I might be still trying - the oldest woman ever.
I was never prepared to give up trying to win my medals. When I won my bronze I was 30-years-old at the Sydney Olympics  and I thought that would be my last because my body just kept breaking down all the time, but because I hadn’t achieved my ultimate goal that became my driving force. It was certainly worth hanging in there.
What would I have done? I still would have probably done what I do now and that’s mentor other hopefuls. I pass on my experience and my expertise and the knowledge that I’ve had over the years and hopefully that will help them have a smoother career.
I run a programme called On Camp With Kelly that has been supported by Aviva for nine years. It’s allowed me to work with a group of young middle distance runners over an eight year period so you can imagine the changes that I’ve seen them go through. The aim of that was to keep them in the sport and hopefully help the transition from juniors to seniors.
Since then Hannah England won silver medal [1,500 metres] at the World Championships in Daegu last year as a senior athlete. She will, fingers crossed, be in the [Olympic] team along with a couple of others. That for me is probably one of my proudest things that I’ve done since Athens, because I actually started that programme before I won my two golds. So I know for me it was something I’ve always wanted to do to give back what I’ve learned in sport and pass it on to others - so that they can have an easier career than me!
And you won a Laureus Award as a result of Athens?
Yes I got the opportunity to go to the Laureus World Sports Awards in 2005 post my Athens win. The Awards are fantastic because they’re mixing the movie world with the sporting elite and you don’t get that anywhere else.
I was sitting there and I was nominated to win World Sportswoman of the Year and you’re really proud of that, but you look at all the other people on the list and you just think, well, are they really going to pick you? And then I was announced as the winner and I was really shy back then and I got embarrassed by the adulation.
But it was a really nice event and I’m proud that I got recognised [for the Award]. I would never have got that had I not dedicated my life to something and worked extremely hard and through the ups-and-downs. I’m just proud that I, as a person, was willing to not give up on a dream and fight to get there. I know Laureus is so big and well respected, especially in the sporting world. To get a Laureus Sports Award, well, it sits proudly in my cabinet.
To achieve what you did, with all the knock-backs and injuries, you must have had immense inner strength. Where did that come from?
I’ve always been a person that’s always wanted to fight to better themselves. You know I was just a council kid, a council girl. As a family we didn’t have a lot of money so I think from a very early age I always strove to do something slightly better, if it was washing windows or cleaning cars. just to earn some money. I would do it because I didn’t want to rely on my family who were working hard to put food on the table. So for me it was always about: if you want something go and get it.
When I started athletics, I suppose I just found it rewarding because suddenly I was good at something. I was not very academic at school, in fact I have no real exams to talk of. I wasn’t really good at reading and writing and so those things almost put you lower than anybody else in class.
But then when I was in sport, you know, I was No 1. Everyone wanted to be on my team, so it gave you that level playing field and made you feel good about
yourself, so when I started athletics and I was just good at it, I was achieving really highly from a young age. It was something that made me feel good inside, so I just kept doing it. There’s so many people that have talent in sport, but if they do not fulfil it because they have not got the real heart and determination and commitment and drive to be successful, they lose that talent.
You know there’s a Japanese proverb that says: ‘Get knocked down seven times, stand up eight’. And in seven years I had injury problems and for me they were really big knocks even though I won medals. But on the eighth year, I won my two gold medals, so it came true for me.
Who do you think are going to be the big names to watch for in London?
The great thing about the Olympic Games is that new stars are born, people that you know are not in the public eye right now. So there will be brand new people that even I probably would never have thought would step up to the plate. [In the British team] there will be some established names. Rebecca Adlington I think, is a good bet for gold in the 800 metres swimming. [Cyclist] Chris Hoy, of course. I’m sure it will be his last Olympic Games and I’m sure he would love to come back and replicate what he did in Beijing, winning three gold medals, but of course that is going to be a harder task because everybody is after him now.
Sometimes there is always a super star that comes into the mix and everybody will know them worldwide. Of course in athletics that is Usain Bolt. Really he has been the person that’s given the sport a real identity, an excitement, and you know everyone is fighting over tickets for the final of the men’s 100 metres. I just pray that he’s in one piece and goes, but what’s brilliant about having somebody so great in sport is it brings everyone else on. You know the performances rise and it goes to a whole new level and that’s what sport is always about. Records are there to be broken.
I think everybody is really looking forward to what people call a showcase event at the Olympic Games - the men’s 100 metres with Usain Bolt. I mean he’s head and shoulders above the rest. You know, providing he doesn’t false start, he’s injury free and healthy, I think he’ll blow the field away.
But in the 200 metres he’s definitely got to watch out because Jamaica are full of amazing talent and Yohan Blake has run the second fastest time [for the 200m] in the world. I think on his day he could give Bolt a run for his money.
Usain Bolt is going to be a big name, but Michael Phelps again can recapture his moment in Beijing in the pool you know. There’s no one who has won as many medals in one Games as Michael Phelps [eight]. That could be another big iconic moment.
I should also mention Oscar Pistorius. I trained in South Africa for around 15 years of my career and Oscar Pistorius is somebody that’s become very high profile given that he’s a Paralympian, but also could be competing in the Olympic Games in the 400 metres. He’s somebody that of course people worldwide have now got to know.
If Oscar gets to double up in both major championships, wow, how amazing would that be.
What will be your role in the London Olympic Games?
I’m one of the Ambassadors for Team GB [Great Britain] that gives me the chance to work with some of the teams quite closely. For about 75% of the team, it’s the first time they have taken part in an Olympic Games. You can imagine how overwhelming that is going to be.
Another involvement in the Games is [through] my charity, The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust. We’ve been helping LOCOG and BP to run the Young Leaders Programme over the last two years, which is a personal development programme to help young people aspire to be something in their own lives and they get a role at the Olympic Games as a volunteer, so that is great.
Have you already been involved with the Team GB athletes?
Yes, I have been visiting some of the teams. I went to British Judo, a sport that has not medalled for the past three Games. Their last was a silver medal with Kate Howey in 2000 and so they are really focusing on trying to bring youth up and with their established players and hopefully this year will be an exciting one for them.
I have also visited the women’s volleyball team, football team and I am going to be visiting table tennis, hockey and badminton. It’s quite nice inter-acting with the teams because a lot of them at this stage have not yet been selected for the Games, so they are all focusing on trying to fulfil their own ambitions to compete in 2012.
For a world class athlete like yourself, what does the Olympic Games mean to you?
Having competed at three Olympic Games and been to one as a spectator, it’s just an unbelievable movement. I’ve always loved the history of the Games and for me being someone very passionate from the age of 14 to want to be an Olympic champion, the Games meant so much. You know [you get] goose bumps, the kind of excitement around the biggest showcase of sport on earth.
You were in Trafalgar Square [London] in 2005 when it was announced that London were going to get the Games?
I remember going to Trafalgar Square and standing on the stage and there were not many people and I thought ‘oh my gosh, no one is interested’. But then probably ten minutes before the announcement everyone was coming out of the buildings like little ants filling up Trafalgar Square and it was just an incredible atmosphere.
I was standing on the stage with a few other Olympians and sporting personalities and the announcement came of course and I think everyone was terrified because it was Paris third bid, so in the back of your mind it was almost like ‘oh they’re bound to feel sorry for them.’ But we also knew that we had such a strong Bid and our country had really come together that when the envelope was finally opened everyone just went crazy,
The Olympics will leave a significant legacy for London?
What is fantastic about the Games coming to London and Britain is we have taken an area of real deprivation and regenerated it to give people in that community a real feeling of aspiration and importance almost. You know this was an area that was just completely unused and now it’s going to be the focal point for the world. The Games brings real hope and inspiration.
Having worked with Laureus over the years I know they are all about inspiring young people through the power of sport to fulfil their ambitions and also to give them hope and opportunity and I think that’s what the Games brings as a whole.
You know it’s going to be a real focal point for people to hopefully get them interested in sport. This is the once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of us to feel the passion of an Olympic Games.
You have other charitable interests in addition to your work as a Laureus Ambassador, can you explain why you set up your own Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust?
I’ve always been really passionate about helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to fulfil their ambition and have opportunity and chances in life. The work that I’ve done with Laureus around the world - I’ve been to South Africa and you go into a township and the hope that you bring to those young people who get that opportunity for change is remarkable.
Because of that, I wanted to do my own work so I have the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust. We work predominantly in the UK. We work in communities with disadvantaged young people. We use ex-world champions, Olympians as role models and mentors and they run all of our programmes, so the actual inspiration comes from somebody that’s achieved at the highest level.
We set our self a goal and we were willing to give it a go, so it’s a nice story. I think we’ve made a difference to so many [young kids] around the country.