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Inspired by the 2012 Olympics, I went searching for autobiographies by famous Olympians on my much-recommended Kindle (see my review on this site). Kelly Holmes grew up in the same part of West Kent as me and at a similar time so I was keen to learn more about her.
Unsurprisingly for an autobiography, it starts with a description of her childhood and in many ways this was one of the most interesting parts of the book. Especially so for me with the same local connections, but her childhood story is heartbreaking at times as she describes her troubled early life growing up with a mother who, despite her best efforts, struggled to support her and in the face of intolerance from her wider family.
From there, the story moves on to her early interest in athletics and success as a schoolgirl athlete before she began a good career in the Army. This part of the book contains few fascinating revelations but it is interesting enough to hold attention.
The pace then picks up again as Kelly decides to pursue a career in athletics after she watches the Barcelona Olympics on TV and she recognises athletes who she beat as a schoolgirl. Her struggles against injury problems over a number of years make surprisingly interesting reading.
Like her career, the book reaches a climax with the 2004 Athens Olympics and her double gold medal winning performance, but there is still a good quarter of a book to go from there. And I'm afraid that's when I found myself speed reading towards the end. It is vaguely interesting hearing about what happened next, but not enough so as she describes her TV appearances and charity work. All good stuff, but not interesting enough to fill a quarter of a book.
Overall, I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to understand more about the life of an athlete - just don't expect too much. She's a great athlete and, for a non-writer, it is written well enough not to grate (unlike some autobiographies). But, her childhood aside, the life of an international athlete who has spent much of her life dedicated to running faster is never going to be that interesting.
If you want to know what its must be like to win gold medals without cheating then Kelly Holmes face when she crossed the line in Sydney is it, her double gold medal ecstasy what every club runner dreams off when they first put on the spikes.
When reading any athletics sports autobiography on a legend you believe in you want to know that person never cheated with performance enhancing drugs to gain the notoriety and fame to be able to write a book. When reading an athletics book about a person who did cheat, like Dwain Chambers, you want them to name the other cheats so more runners like Kelly can win the big medals. I have always believed Kelly Holmes never did knowingly cheat and I still believe that after reading this book, be it a somewhat rather homely and disappointingly safe read because of that. The only one doubt for me is she is yet another asthma sufferer, a remarkably high number of top athletes claiming to be asthmatics, Paula Radcliffe and Steve Ovett, the two other athletics biographies I have read recently also asthma sufferers.
Sadly Kelly is as plain and simple as her media image and so her story doesn't make for any new revelations other than what you have seen or heard from her, hardly loquacious and enthralling reading. She doesn't want to discuss her sexuality and only hints at that through the fact she doesn't want to discuss it and manages only one paragraph or so on drugs. It was a great chance to make a powerful statement on drugs but, like most sports books, I suppose people like our Kelly don't want to face libel law suits from their enemies and to drop their friends in it. Dwain Chambers' angry memoir spent the whole time making excuses for drug users whereas Kelly spends the whole book ignoring athletics biggest curse as if it doesn't exist. This conspiracy of silence is common in athletics circles and it's very rare that fellow athletes are ever ousted for cheating by their piers, especially by clean athletes getting whipped by them for the big medals, as Kelly no doubt did. The problem just seems too big to tackle and with the feeble two year ban remaining in place it means pretty much any athlete can cheat, get caught, then retrain and win medals and more cash, records and personalities the sport doesn't feel it can afford to live without those world records set through cheating.
No, what Kelly really wants to talk about, like most women, are the everyday anxieties of being a woman, friends and family, especially in a career like the army and athletics, preferring to recall her childhood and her relationship with her mother and step dads than her best races, this book aimed more at female readers, the first 100 pages of the 350 or so taken up with her early family life. Although she looks tomboyish her book doesn't read that way and she comes across as very fragile.
The early days for Kelly were a cliché for many working - class black Britain's today but certainly not so in 1970s metropolitan Bexley Heath in Kent, a product of mixed-race teenage parents and an absent black father, in those days somewhat taboo. When Kelly touches on her race even from an early age she never saw herself as black in a cultural sense and so used that as a firewall against subtle racism, a white girl at heart, so never really feeling inferior to white people in her life, proving that confidence of who she is by having a good army career and a spectacular one in athletics, never using her colour as an excuse to fail. Her early days are sentimental explored here and so rather dull reading and her school and junior running career hardly touched on. This book is most definitely a cathartic healing process for Kelly so to help it sink in that she is out greatest black runner ever. Kelly is a Dame of the empire in every way.
By 15 she was showing that amazing natural running ability and all Kent schools champion and National English schools queen as her CSE's approached at the age of 16. But all she ever wanted was to be in the army after seeing a girl of her colour and athleticism on the recruitment poster and signed the forms at 17, her dream job to be a Personal Trainer Instructor but settling for an army HGV driver role and basic training until a PTI spot turned up. Sadly her interest in athletics would wane once the square-bashing started and her carer plans settled to being a grunt. There were to be many scrapes in the army, Kelly keen to go into them to flesh the book out, including her near drowning experience in training, the most dramatic of them, somewhat surprisingly being able to swim not a requirement to join the army.
Athletics were not about to give up on one of its finest talents though, Middlesex AC finally persuading her after a long year of pestering letters and calls to give it one more go, the army in agreement and re-posting her from York to North London so she could do her beloved PTI course there. The army love a strong athletics team and many names you may know in the sport started their career in the military, Chris Akabussi perhaps the most famous, also a P.T.I.
As soon as that training restarted the results came, soon selected for the World Championships in 1993, a creditable 800m semi-final with a time of 1:58 and 4:01 in the 1500m enough evidence she had what it takes, her army muscles giving her real power (and elbows) in the rough and tumble two lap race. By then she held every Army running title, from 200m to 3000m, and so time to really push on the international scene. Every athlete needs to know they can be beaten to get better.
"Are you here for the money or the medals?"
(Coach Dave Arnold-1995)
Her first medal was silver and came at the Europeans in Helsinki in 1994 and then gold in the following but weaker Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. But it would be the Olympics where the tears would flow for our Kelly, injuries blighting her journey to eventual glory in Athens, the four Games she competed in seeing many disappointments until it all went very well indeed at the grand old age of 34. Kelly, like most athletes, agrees that Atlanta 96 was the worst Olympics of all for comfort and fun.
There are plenty of those Kelly's disappointments in the book, running and family wise, injuries always the downer for people seeking sporting perfection, some depression in her life mentioned when those injuries dragged and she lost her Nike deal and so funding. Athletes are at their most vulnerable when they are not racing and money is tight, Kelly admitting to cutting herself at her lowest, the comfort blanket of the Army no longer there to help her.
An interesting chapter in the book is Kelly's move away from revered coach Dave Arnold and towards the Maria Mutola camp and her American team and coach. Mutola is the female runner that looks like, and built as, a bloke and would be the one athlete you would think topped the positive list when it came to testing. But she never did and if Kelly was to be the ultimate champion it would be Maria Matola she had to beat. Some say Kelly was used by team Matola to help Maria win all the Golden league races as a pacemaker so to bag the million dollar bonus and there were even suggestions the two were lovers, which Kelly throws tepid water on. Again, with the sexuality question she is always ambiguous.
Although British records would litter her career Kelly was never a record breaking runner, medals always what it was about. If you are tactically better than runners faster than you on the track in middle distance you can win the big medals. The book closes with those two incredible runs in the Olympics and life thereafter, events no one should ever forget, our cleanest and most down to earth athlete winning double gold in the Olympics. Not since 1924 and Albert Hill had a British athlete done that middle distance double. That look on Kelly's face was the Olympic dream.
Although Kelly Holmes story is the perfect one as far as athletics goes, her book isn't, a disappointingly dull affair if you consider her achievements. She isn't the brightest penny in the box and that shows in the lack of confessional and intellect in the writing, a lady not picking any fights, clearly not wanting to damage her legacy by being too opinionated here. I think this book was written for the people she knows rather than opinionated blokes like me that always want the dirt and so highly recommended to women readers of sports and general interest books alike. I much preferred Dwain Chambers book to Kelly's and Paula's because it got to grips with the macho side of the sport that breeds all its problems. I do feel, however, it will be along time until a top athlete does blow the whistle on what seems to be pretty corrupt sport, genuine heroes like Kelly keeping the sports nose above water, a girl who won because the cheats were being caught and so not in her glorious races in Athens.
Motivational and inspiring, it would be fantastic if there were more people like Dame Kelly Holmes around for our kids to look upto.
Dame Kelly didn't have a privelleged background, and admits to not always getting along with her family. She takes you through her childhood, her early career in the army, through to starting out in Athletics, then winning those gold medals.
Dame Kelly comes across as extremely humble, hard work and thoroughly dedicated. A fantastic role model, she clearly tries hard to give something back without coming across as pretentious.
Her determinations shines through as she talks about battling back to fitness from career threatening illness and injuries, and she also talks about how privelleged she feels to have made a living from something she loves doing as much as athletics.
Fantastic read, somuch so that I have bought several copies of this for different friends who are facing a tough time and needed something inspirational.
Ever since I can remember I have loved watching athletics, especially at the major championships like the Olympic Games. There have been many strong British athletes to follow over the years and one of my favourites is Kelly Holmes who's greatest achievements came at the 2004 Athens Olympics when she won two gold medals in the 800 and 1500 metres. Black, White and Gold is her autobiography.
I always prefer reading autobiographies as oppose to biographies (even if they are written with someone else) because I like reading about first hand experiences. Kelly has written this book with the help of someone called Fanny Blake and it makes a very interesting read starting with her early life, following through her days in the army and moving on to her athletics career and beyond. The book was originally written and published in 2005 but has had further updates in 2006 and 2008. The book I have just read is the latest one so it is quite interesting to discover what she has done since those fantastic Olympic victories.
The book is written in a very open and honest way although she does profess to be quite a private person especially where personal relationships are involved. However, she does talk quite frankly about her start in life as a mixed race child to a very young single mother. She could have tried for the sympathy angle but she does not feel like that at all. She had a very good relationship with her mum (mostly) and she states that she never had any problems because of her mixed race.
I was fascinated to read of her life in the army. This also is portrayed in a very positive light. She obviously enjoyed her army career very much and she writes about what a difficult decision it was to leave in order to dedicate herself to full time athletics.
Obviously, her athletics career is the aspect of her life that most people are aware of and I found it really interesting to read all about the training regimes and also the support network of very important people who helped her achieve all that she did. It was lovely to see just how much she appreciated all these people and she acknowledges that she could not have made it on her own. I really appreciated the fact that all the people she mentions in the book (and there are many) are all written about in a very positive way. She does not bad mouth a single person in her book and that makes a refreshing change compared to some other autobiographies I have read.
Her career was not all plain sailing though as she is well known to have suffered more than her fair share of injuries over the years. She is extremely honest as she relives some of her lowest moments and you can almost feel the pain and despair with her.
It is great that she is able to share the height of her success with her readers and how she writes about this is such a contrast to the writing about the injury lows. It's also good to read about how she has gone on to be a great ambassador for sport and was fully involved in the 2012 London bid. I also discovered that she is quite tireless in the work she does to support young athletes and the work she does with schools in order to promote young people's fitness.
This is a very enjoyable book that tells of an extremely interesting life. I love the fact that through her own hard work and determination she became the highly successful athlete that we have come to admire. She writes with openess and honesty and there are times when her story is slightly shocking. What comes through more than anything though is that she is an extremely nice person who almost cannot believe that she has achieved all that she has - so much so that she is now Dame Kelly Holmes. None of this has gone to her head though and she comes across as a very humble and down to earth individual.
This is an excellent book and will be particularly appealing to athletics fans. However, I'm sure that it can also be enjoyed by anyone who just likes to read about an ordinary girl achieving her dreams!
Black White and Gold is the biography written by 2 times Olympic champion, Dame Kelly Holmes.
She starts the book in March of 2005 as she is sitting in a limousine driving towards the gate of Buckingham Palace. She is off to receive her Damehood and she says how surreal it felt and how she had to pinch herself to make sure it was really happening. She tells how she joked with the other people who were also their receiving their Damehood and Knights', she wished she could kneel down like the men did to have the Queen place the sword on each of her shoulders, she tells them all she is going to kneel down anyway! As we all know she did not and she received her dame hood in the correct way!
We are then taken back to her early years and she tells how when her parents found out she was pregnant and had split up from her boyfriend they did not want her to have the baby but she went ahead and when Kelly was born her mother was given the choice of having the baby adopted or leave the family home in the small village of Hildenborough. Kelly's Mom left the family home and struggled with Kelly so eventually she had to have her put into St Georges Children's Home whilst she found herself a place to live and a good enough job to be able to support them both. Kelly was not felt alone whilst in the home, her mom would be there every day to play and look after her. Eventually Kelly returned to her Mom and they lived in a small bed-sit. As time went on Kelly was back in the children's home up until she was 4 years old as her mom just could not cope.
Eventually when Kelly finally went back to her Mom for the final time things at home changed and there was a new man in her life, Mick, he became a father to Kelly and he married Kelly's mom shortly after. Kelly and Mick got on very well and he treated her like one of his own children. In time Kelly would have a younger brothers and was finally living in a stable and happy home.
As Kelly grew up she became interested in Athletics and soon found she was competing in all the county and school races and was very good at it, she found a trainer and she did her very best in the training schedules she had been given. It was when she was at school the British Army turned up to do a display trying to get recruits for the Army. Kelly was shocked by what she had seen and right from that moment she decided her future lay in the Army.
Kelly finally managed to pass the years she had to wait until she was old enough to join, she continued her running and training which set her in good stead for her Army basic training. She did want to join and train to become a Physical Trainer but this option was full so she went with the option of joining as a HGV driver with the choice to transfer later.
Kelly settled in very well with Army life and she talks for a good few chapters about how she found army life and how she struggled trying to make the transfer into the PT unit. She eventually got given the chance to move and she worked exceptionally hard to prove herself. She also continued her athletics during this time and she was regularly winning the Army competitions when she found she had to make a hard decision of staying with the Army or leaving to pursue her dream of winning a Gold at the Olympics.
Her choice was finally made and she left the army, she did very well and left with the rank of Acting Sergeant. Her dedication in her athletics saw her winning some very major races but she always had to contend with injury problems.
As the book goes on she takes in-depth about how injury was always holding her back and just when she found she was back to full fitness she would have another set back. Kelly made some great friend s along the way and she found she was spending a lot of her time in South Africa with another runner and they became training partners. During this time Kelly found she could not stay with her trainer and she found herself a new one which gave her a new lease of life.
Times got hard for Kelly and at her lowest point when she was again unable to run and train due to injury she found herself in the bathroom of her friends house where she was staying cutting herself, she would continue doing this every day for as long as she was injured and unable to train. She felt her dreams of becoming an Olympic medallist slipping away from her.
Eventually Kelly got back on track and she did compete in the 2000 Olympics but as she was not at her best she did not do well, over the following 4 years she really pushed herself and again battled with injury up to the 2004 Athens games. It is here that she eventually made the choice to run both the 800m and the 1500m and to her great delight she won both becoming the first woman ever to win gold in both distances at the same games.
Kelly had finally fulfilled her two dreams she had worked for since her childhood, the first was becoming a PT in the Army and the second was winning a gold at the Olympics. Kelly could not believe the impact her wins had had back home in Britain and she was god smacked when she returned to find she was famous! She used this status she had to help young children to be able to live their running dreams and she still continues to do so to this day.
The book which I have has been updated and at the end of the book we have chapters which Kelly talks about how she finally made her decision to retire from running and how she dedicates her time to helping others try to get their dreams. Kelly also talks briefly about her time as a contestant on Dancing on ice and how hard she found it. She ends to the book with what she hopes to achieve in the future.
At the end of the book there is a table which shows Kelly achievements in the running right from her very first race at school to her winning the two gold's at the Olympics in 2004.
This book is a very good read. I did find it very interesting reading about her childhood and how she never really though she was different from her family despite being of mixed race. The talk of when she went to meet her real father was interesting as she found she had another family. I also thought that her real dad was very wrong for not wanting to be around Kelly and just concentrating on his other daughter, but he must have had his reasons.
The time Kelly spend in the Army did get a bit boring for me to read as she describes everything in detail, when she mentions a piece of kit she goes on to tell us exactly what it is, being an Army wife I did not need to know this as I do know what these items are but for anyone who has no connection with the Army will find this somewhat useful. There are also some very funny moments especially the time when she thought she was going to die!
I knew Kelly had suffered injuries in her running career but I did not know just how many and how bad they were, I was also shocked when she revealed about the self harming, she does talk about it very openly and also about how she overcome it.
There is a lot of talk about the races which she ran and I did find it got slightly tedious when she was mentioning all the other runners as I just think she could have shortened it by mentioning just a few. I also found I was willing the book to move along slightly quicker to the famous Olympic games she ran.
I am pleased to read that she is using her new status and fame to help others and also all the time and effort she put in to help London win the 2012 Olympic games. Kelly really is role model which all young girls should be learning about as she is a true inspiration and shows people that you can overcome all obstacles and fulfil your dreams.
I hope you don't think I have given too much away about the book as there is still so much more to be read about in the book.
The book was originally published in 2005 by Virgin Books Limited but the copy which I have was updated and re-published in 2006. I paid £2.50 for my brand new copy of the book from EBay. I have also seen this for sale on Amazon Market Place starting from 1p.
There are 296 pages in the book which have been split into 23 chapters. Also there is an index at the back so if there is a particular race of person you are looking for then this can be helpful.
I do highly recommend this book and Kelly should be pushed forward as a proper role model for these young children today.