Alfred Shrubb, Sydney Wooderson, Roger Bannister, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe… Some of the greatest names in British middle distance running, indeed in the sport globally, yet none of them ever managed to do what Kelly Holmes completed here tonight in winning the 800 and 1500 metres golden Olympic double.
Holmes did so with a piece of consummately calm and collected tactical running, producing a withering finishing burst over the last 120 metres that left the world’s best women milers scrabbling behind her, as the 34-year-old Briton bettered her own national record, set in 1997, by 0.17sec with 3:57.90, as seven of the first eight finishers all recording personal bests, the first six inside four minutes.
The silver medal was won by Tatyana Tomashova, Russia’s World champion, with 3:58.12, while Maria Cioncan, from Romania - like Holmes, in her sixth race in seven days - having the strength to slip through on the inside of the fading Natalya Yevdokimova down the finishing straight to claim bronze in 3:58.39.
Yevdokimova had laid the foundations for her rivals’ great performances, setting off at a fair clip from the gun, with Poland’s Lidia Chojecka right behind her and Tomashova in third, as they passed 400m in 63.59sec and 800m in 2:08.64.
Holmes, as had become her customary tactic this week, dropped herself off the ace from the start, with only the visibly tired Hasna Benhassi - silver medal-winner at 800m - behind her for the first two laps.
It was at the half-distance that Holmes made her first move, although there was little change in the race order even after the bell, assed in 2:58.
The large British contigent of fans in the stadium could be heard to gasp as the runners began to accelerate down the back straight, as Holmes seemed to make little impression on the leaders. Her patience was rewarded, though.
At 120 metres Cioncan and Tomashova seemed to trip over each other, as Holmes moved around the bend almost in lane three, well clear of any traffic. It was then that she signalled quite how easy she was running, as she took a long look over her right shoulder, as if to ask: “Where are you all?”
As if losing patience waiting for other challenges to materialise, Holmes passed Yevdokimova entering the straight, with Tomashova chasing after her, though she never got closer than within two metres.
“I feel disappointed,” Tomashova said. “I relied o my sprint finish, but it was only good enough for second.”
Holmes thus became the oldest ever winner of the women’s 1500m as well as only the second woman since 1980 to achieve the middle distance double.
And in the year of the 50th anniversary of the first sub-four-minute mile, it is worth registering a footnote from British athletics history, since it is 84 years since Albert Hill was the last Briton to win both the 800 and 1500m at the Olympics, at Antwerp in 1920. Asked whether she had considered this historical achievement, Holmes said, straight faced, “No, it’s not the sort of thing I worry about.”
"I have been training specifically for the 1500m and the hardest thing tonight was to focus," Holmes said.
"I knew I was in good shape and I was just saying to myself: 'One more, one more'.
"I've looked at my 800m medal every morning and get tears in my eyes. For the last seven years, I have loads of injuries and I have only brought back silvers and bronzes.
"Now I have had an injury free year and look what's happened."