After Great Britain’s Emma Pallant landed the 1500m bronze medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz on Sunday few inside the Zawisza Stadium wore a more radiant grin than double Olympic champion Kelly Holmes.
That was because the 800m and 1500m gold medallist at the Athens Games has supported Pallant through her ‘On Camp with Kelly’ (OCWK) mentoring initiative and educational development programme, which has assisted more than 50 of Great Britain’s most gifted, young female middle-distance runners and is supported by Aviva/Norwich Union.
Holmes came up with the idea for the scheme in January 2004 – eight months before winning her two Olympic gold medals – as a means for transferring her vast knowledge to the next generation of athletes.
“I’d had a career of ups and downs and a load of injuries and I wanted to pass on my experiences to keep more people in the sport,” she explained. “When I was young, I was part of a great group of middle-distance runners but none of them (other than Holmes) went on to become seniors. I wanted the current generation to enjoy a smoother pathway to the top and learn from someone who has done it at the top level.”
A group of eight promising female middle-distance runners were selected for the initial OCWK camp in South Africa in autumn 2004 and since then the scheme has grown to have involved more than 50 girls.
Regular get-together weekends have taken place, training camps in Australia and Spain and in the past two years UK-based ten-day educational camps held, in which, this year, for the first time young male athletes were invited to participate.
The athletes are divided into gold, silver and bronze tiers which allows them different levels of mentoring support from Holmes and also medical and financial backing. Meanwhile, the individual coaches of the athletes are also invited to the camps and receive benefits according to the tier of athlete they support.
Holmes makes her phone number available to all the OCWK athletes to answer any queries or concerns they may have but she is keen to stress the scheme is far more than just a mentoring programme.
The OCWK team now boasts a full-time manager, a team of supervisors, doctors, physios, masseurs and a sports psychologist and Holmes also offers the athletes practical advice on travel basics.
“We go through what you need to pack in your bags when you are going abroad,” explained Holmes. “We also go through scenarios of learning how to cope with sharing a room with someone you don’t know, how to cope with losing your luggage and carrying enough of what you need (for racing) in your hand luggage.”
The scheme has so far been a resounding success. Pallant was one of four OCWK athletes who competed at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Poland and three of the 800m finalists at the UK National Championships have also developed through the project.
But what plans does Holmes have for OCWK in the future?
“I would really like to expand it beyond Britain. Some countries need it more because they don’t have any structure or talent pathway,” she explained. “I’m currently working on the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, which is to bring past champions into the sporting landscape, train them up to be technical advisors and mentors.”
But while the success of OCWK has been overwhelming, Holmes insisted the main purpose of the programme should not be forgotten.
“Winning Olympic medals is not the main priority. It’s more a case of nurturing the talent. I just want to see the athlete get the most out of their careers,” she added.
Steve Landells for the IAAF