Ian Clarkson talks to Dame Kelly Holmes on life after being in the forefront of sporting success
Dame Kelly Holmes is a sporting icon and one of a rare breed who actually transcends her sport.
Pictures of her joyously celebrating a double gold medal in middle distance at the 2004 Olympic Games in Sydney are indelibly etched into the psyche of the British nation.
Holmes appeared to be a picture of serenity as she carried the British flag at the closing ceremony before being decorated with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
However, appearances can be deceptive; Holmes has endured and faced personal demons during her rise to the top of her profession and is keen to impart her knowledge on the current crop.
A multitude of factors led to her being diagnosed with clinical depression prior to her Herculean Olympic achievements.
Self-abuse was a regular occurrence and suicide was an option she contemplated on more than one occasion to underline the complexities of Holmes' character.
Nevertheless, it was and is this constant battle with her inner demons that perversely drove her on to success, allied to a tough upbringing within the ranks of the army after her parents were part of a mixed race marriage. Her frank assessment of life is encapsulated in her autobiography, Black, White and Gold, which is far from bland.
However, since Holmes' retirement in December 2005 there has been a huge void in British athletics that was compounded by a dreadful haul of track medals at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March.
Accusations of gratuitous funding that is disproportionate to performances have constantly been levelled at today's athletes trying to propel Britain back to the top.
Holmes, rather than become a rancorous former champion content to complain from afar, has taken steps to rectify the situation. 'On camp with Kelly' has seen an elite band of young British athletes undertake the punishing schedule that drove Holmes to being the best middle-distance runner in the world.
Yet she confesses that she has only scratched the surface thus far, saying: "British athletics has gone downhill recently and I wanted to put something back. They need to put the hunger back into athletes as it is undoubtedly easier now.
"There is more funding but there needs to be more accountability on athletes' shoulders before they get rewarded.
"I set myself a goal from the age of 14 where I wanted to be a PT instructor in the army and an Olympic champion. I achieved both.
"Talent alone isn't enough. You need a strong belief otherwise you will never succeed.
"Chucking £10,000 at an athlete didn't solve the problem two years ago and it won't solve it now.
"I really wanted to give some athletes the opportunity to learn from my experiences, both good and bad, I believe that training camp has given athletes this opportunity."
Eight athletes have been selected by Holmes and after their inaugural camp in South Africa have had further sessions with her. An Army training day at Pibright Barracks in Surrey, led by Holmes herself, has been followed by soirees to Loughborough, Valenica and Melbourne.
Tangible rewards have been duly noted such as Danielle Christmas' victory in the Under 20 Great North Mile and Holmes will be unrelenting in her quest for success.
"Athletes need to be prepared for every eventuality and so I have been educating the girls as to what is expected of international athletes.
"They have made huge strides forward but it will be very hard for them. It has to be if they want to compete with the elite and become worldclass middle-distance runners."
It is unsurprising that Holmes has thrown herself into this new role with such gusto as she searches for the natural high she attained in athletics. Sporting success is the best legal drug available and that feeling of euphoria is very rarely attained after retiring. For a tortured soul like Holmes that could be a recipe for disaster and she is aware of the pitfalls of too much spare time.
A cameo role in the celebrity ice-skating show, Strictly Ice Dancing resulted in a plethora of criticism along with fellow Olympian Todd Sand.
However, her search for a new goal is still far from complete, saying:
"I still feel a little bit lost at present. It is difficult to replicate the feeling you get from being a successful athlete as I have always had to strive for something." Kelly Holmes will be signing copies of her book Black, White and Gold at Waterstones, Birmingham High Street, tomorrow. The double Olympic gold medallist will be at the store from 12.30pm to 1.30pm.