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On camp with Kelly Holmes

Dame Kelly Holmes

Dame Kelly Holmes's athletics camp

By Phil Jones
BBC athletics reporter in Delhi

When invited to go "On Camp with Kelly" in India, I imagined there might be some 'dib-dib-dobbing' involved and a few brown owls around.

Dame Kelly Holmes
Dame Kelly Holmes is building on an idea she had before Athens Olympics

I never did get my scout's badge for boiling broth in a billy can or divining for water. Perhaps now was my big opportunity.

The truth of it was far more important and life-enriching.

Double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes is the host in question. This was her brainchild even before her monumental success in Athens in 2004.

Holmes wanted to pass on her expertise to young athletes and give something back to a sport that had given her so much.

But, more than that, she wanted to help them develop life skills that would serve them in a world far beyond track and field.

And here in Delhi she is continuing the move to make her message global, with a camp at the Indian Institute of Technology in the south of the city.

We watched some of the British athletes signed up to her programme pass on their unbridled enthusiasm for athletics to more than 120 Indian schoolchildren, some of whom had never seen a race bib and safety pins before, let alone a double Olympic champion.

People don't realise maybe how much work I put into this - it means so much to me

Dame Kelly Holmes

"It's been six years now and it is great to see the girls I've got out here interacting with the youngsters in this way," said Holmes.

"To spread the word about our sport to places like this is just amazing. Many of the kids here are from local villages that I hope to get to visit while I'm here. They all wanted a bib and number but weren't sure what to do with them."

Emma Pallent, a prodigious talent just on the cusp of making a senior championship, was one of the girls leading a group of wide-eyed primary school children in various warm-up drills or jogging sessions.

It was all carried off with an air of boundless fun: big smiles all round and much laughter. The children hung on to her every word, followed her every move.

"I love working with kids," said Pallent, "and I feel so privileged to have this opportunity.

"Being part of the 'On Camp' programme allows me to do things like this and develop life skills that allow me to feel comfortable talking to lots of people or talking to the media.

"Kelly is so supportive and always there for us. When I've felt a bit down about a race, she is the first to text with a word of comfort and it really is invaluable."

When you see an athletes' village canteen for the first time and it's the size of three football pitches, it can be a bit daunting

Dame Kelly Holmes

Holmes's pupils Hannah England, Emma Jackson and Charlotte Purdue have all performed with great spirit here in Delhi, offering the promise of greater success.

Meanwhile, Andrew Osagie showed glimpses of his potential in the 800m here - and at the same time reminded us that Kelly's club is not a female only domain.

"People don't realise maybe how much work I put into this," said Holmes. "It means so much to me. I'm always there to work with them and support them.

"I started the programme even before the gold medals in Athens - but obviously the Olympic wins didn't hurt.

"And then the support of [sponsors] Aviva was essential. I couldn't have done it to such a level without them. I mean, just to bring the girls out here and give them this experience for starters.

"When you see an athletes' village canteen for the first time and it's the size of three football pitches, it can be a bit daunting. There is so much to take in just outside of the stadium. This will stand all my athletes in great stead."

They will also benefit from turning to an athletics great for advice in times of trouble on the track - or perhaps, more crucially, off it.

"Not everyone can have a brilliant athletics career," said Holmes. "So what we're doing is preparing them for life and giving them the confidence and skills to be a success at whatever they try."

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