By Mike Rowbottom in London



By the time Kelly Holmes had been six months retired, and her daily elation at not having to go through the rigour of training had abated, she found herself asking a question: "Who am I now?"


Four years on, it's a question she is still in the process of answering, one that seems constantly to be throwing up further questions as she splits her energies across a range of commitments that include television appearances, speaking engagements, presidency of Commonwealth Games England, and her ongoing project On Camp With Kelly, which is is backed by Aviva and which has now supported more than 60 promising British male and female middle distance athletes.


But as the woman who ended her competitive life as Olympic 800 and 1500 metres champion discovers her own path, she is now – through the DKH (Dame Kelly Holmes) Legacy Trust - helping other retired sports people to find theirs. And they in turn are engaged in motivating selected groups of young people.


It's all a bit like the Kevin Spacey film, Pass It On.


This week, the Trust, which has taken the best part of a year to create, faces two crucial tests of its effectiveness as it undertakes events in which youngsters in Manchester and Liverpool will receive guidance and, perhaps, inspiration, from former sporting figures who have been specially trained in mentoring skills.


It is a prospect which clearly excites Holmes as she warms to the topic in the airy office overlooking London's Leadenhall Street in which the Trust is based.


That said, she is still clearly carrying an adrenaline buzz from her morning’s involvement in recording the UKTV programme Market Kitchen along with two of her runners from the On Camp scheme.


While her appearance has been part of a conscious effort to highlight sensible nutritional choices for young people, and particularly young athletes, Holmes is unabashedly triumphant about the fact that she has just won the Lemon Challenge.


Yes. The Lemon Challenge. Peeling and eating an entire lemon as quickly as possible.


"Thirty eight seconds!" she says. "You can take the athlete out of competition, but you can't take the competition out of the athlete."


While that truth has always been obvious to Holmes, and anyone who has known her, other truths have taken longer to emerge.


One of the hardest, in the space of the last year, has been the realisation that just because you desperately want to do something to help your fellow sports people, and to use their expertise to widen the horizons of young people, it doesn't mean everyone will clap and cheer you all the way.


In the space of the last year, Holmes says, she has discovered the more repressive, controlling side to sporting politics.


"I’ve really got to know the world of sport, and its politics with a small 'p',” she says, her face darkening at the memory. "I've had a lot of battles to fight with people who didn't want me to be in their space. If you start something, people think you might be treading on their toes, or doubling up what they do."


I've had a lot of knock-backs, some of them from people you would have expected to be supportive. It's been hurtful and demoralising at times. But me being me I thought: 'No. I really believe in this.'"



Over the years, the world has witnessed that determination manifested in Holmes's track performances. 


This is not just the athlete who won double gold at the 2004 Athens Games.


This is the athlete who forced herself to the 800 metres finish line at the 1996 Atlanta Games with a stress fracture, finishing fourth, before spending the next seven weeks in plaster.

And who won bronze at the Sydney 2000 Olympics despite managing just six weeks of training in preparation because of a virus.


Holmes's belief has been conspicuously backed in some key areas, however. "Sport England has been very supportive," she says. "And we have also appreciated the support of the British Olympic Association. We are always on the look-out for partnerships with other organisations."


So it is that the Trust now finds itself established, with a mission statement to "inspire young people to find and fulfil their potential in sport and in life through our workforce of elite sports performers."


"This is a big week for us," Holmes says as she looks ahead to the Trust’s two upcoming events. "This thing is in my name, and I desperately want it to work out well."


Wright Robinson School in Gorton, near the City of Manchester Stadium where Holmes won Commonwealth 1500m gold in 2002, will host a two-day Backing Talent event - sponsored by BT, for whom Holmes is an Ambassador - designed to inspire some of the region's most promising athletes.


Holmes and a team of 20 retired elite performers including Bryan Steel, Olympic cycling silver medallist, Sarah Stevenson, taekwondo bronze medallist at the Beijing Games, double world rowing champion Toby Garbett, six-times canoeing world champion Anna Hemmings, world rowing gold medallist Sarah Winckless and Commonwealth Games triple jump medallist Connie Henry will be working with 100 young sports performers aged 13-21.


At the same time, a group of four former competitors who have received specialised mentoring skills through the Trust will embark upon an even tougher challenge in Knowsley, Liverpool as they work with a group of young people who are not on training programmes, in education or employment, in the pilot scheme of the Get On Track initiative.


"This a massive pilot scheme for us," Holmes says. "We will measure our success  by how many of the young people we retain, because some of these youngsters come from really tough backgrounds and they are quite likely just to say 'F-off, I’m off…'"


The Trust-trained quartet who will be taking on this task are Adam Whitehead, the Olympic and Commonwealth swimmer, Anna Jackson, the wheelchair basketball Paralympian, Jenna Downing, former inline skating world champion, and Neil Danns, former European skateboarding champion.


"I feel passionately that sports people are role models for young people," Holmes adds. "And the more that young people can work with sports people the better. When people can collaborate more it will be better for everyone involved.


"Making a decision to retire after being an elite performer is something that many competitors are scared to do – because they have to address what to do next.


"A lot of competitors are lacking in confidence at that point in their lives. I know how I felt at that point – I felt lost.


"Many sports people have put 10 or 20 years into achieving excellence during their careers. Do we care about them?


"What we are saying to them now through the Trust is, 'Hey, come over here, we will help you make the transition into a new career where you can give back some of the skills and discipline you have built up.'


"When we started talking to sports people who had either retired or were planning to, we asked them what they would really like to do next. A lot of them said that working with young people was something they felt passionate



"The climate for getting sponsorship is quite difficult at the moment, as we all know. And we couldn't see sponsors just racing to support ex-sports people.


"But once the recipient of the charity is young people, it can make it worthwhile for companies to come aboard. The whole thing was a process that evolved."


In the same way, Holmes, whose dedication to her athletics goals was as unwavering as any competitor you could name, has found her own sense of self evolving.


"People ask me, 'What do you do now?' And I don't know the short answer to it. Do I say I’m a business woman? I feel like I’m 20 different people, or one person doing 20 different jobs. I don’t know what the answer is. So I just try to be me."


Contact the writer of this story at [email protected] .


Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.

For more details on the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust click here:  


Photography by: Patrick Khachfe