Kelly Holmes: England’s Greatest Female Athlete of All Time
Born in Pembury, Kent, England on April 19, 1970, Dame Kelly Holmes is a gold medal-winning Olympian who set world records in several events that include holding the British 800-meter record until 2021. In this article, we look at her life, outstanding sporting achievements, and philanthropy work following her retirement from professional sports.
Holmes is the daughter of Pam Norman and Derrick Holmes, a car mechanic who emigrated to England from Jamaica. Her mother subsequently married Michael Norris, whom Holmes says she regards as her father.
Kelly Holmes joined Tonbridge Athletics Club at the age of 12. Under the tutelage of Coach David Arnold, she won the English Schools 1,500 meters in 1983. She cites her hero as Steve Ovett, a British middle-distance runner who inspired Holmes with his successes at the 1980 Olympics.
As a teenager, Holmes pursued varied endeavors. After a stint working in a sweet shop, then as a nursing assistant for physically challenged patients, Kelly Holmes enlisted with the British Army. She became an HGV driver for the Women’s Royal Army Corps, later becoming a physical training instructor.
In June 1990, Kelly Holmes was selected to attend the British Army’s new Physical Training syllabus. She qualified as a Class 2 physical training instructor and transferred to the Royal Army Physical Training Corps at Aldershot, where she was responsible for training new recruits. Holmes subsequently qualified to become a sergeant class 1 instructor. She also won a heptathlon and became a British Army judo champion. In addition, she competed in an athletics event and won the 800 meters, 3,000 meters, and a relay race, all in a single day.
In 1992, Kelly Holmes was watching the Summer Olympics on television when she saw her former rival, Lisa York, competing in the 3,000-meter heats. Kelly Holmes had competed with and beaten York several times. It was at this moment that she decided to return to athletics, combining her Army employment with amateur athletics, until increased funding enabled her to leave the Army to follow her dreams.
Kelly Holmes’ first major athletic competition was in 2004, when she competed in the Athens Olympics. She originally planned to compete in just the 1,500-meter event, but following a victory against Slovenian athlete Jolanda Čeplak before the games started, Kelly Holmes was persuaded to compete in the 800-meter event, too. The decision earned Kelly Holmes her first Olympic gold medal.
Holmes also won the 1,500 meters at the event, becoming the third woman in the history of the games to achieve an 800-meter and 1,500-meter double. She was subsequently given the honor of carrying the British flag at the Olympic Games’ closing ceremony. When Kelly Holmes returned to the UK, a homecoming parade was staged through the streets of Tonbridge and Hildenborough, with 40,000 people in attendance. Speaking with the press, she acknowledged that she had finally achieved the goal she had dreamed of for 20 years.
Dame Kelly Holmes is widely regarded as the most successful English sportswomen of all time. She won seven major international competitions, including two Olympic gold medals, two Commonwealth Games titles, and two European Cup events.
Holmes established five British track records, and is one of the most accomplished athletes the country has ever produced. She retired from professional sports in December 2005.
In 1998, Kelly Holmes was honored with a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). She was also appointed Honorary Colonel of the British Army’s Royal Armored Corps Training Regiment and earned induction into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
On March 9, 2005, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain honored Kelly Holmes by making her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for service to athletics. Holmes attended the investiture at Buckingham Palace accompanied by her parents and grandfather.
After founding the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust in 2008, a registered charity, Kelly Holmes set out on a mission to enrich the lives of disadvantaged young people across the UK. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression while training for the 2004 Olympics, Holmes has spoken several times in the media about self-harm, earning praise for her bravery and outspokenness, showing others undergoing similar mental health issues that they are not alone.
In 2019, the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust started an initiative working with youths in disadvantaged coastal areas in England. Benefitting from nearly £750,000 in funding, the project enriched the lives of 700 young people living in coastal communities by inspiring them to become more active and involved with sports.
Speaking with the press about the initiative, Dame Kelly Homes explained that she was passionate about the power of physical activity in terms of changing lives, pointing out that the brilliant athletes working with the Trust would inspire and motivate young people across the country to increase their physical activity levels, motivating them, and ultimately transforming their lives.