Opinion: Dame Kelly Holmes on her new challenges in business

  • 13 May 2016

Reaching the top in the world of athletics requires incredible dedication and determination to succeed. A similar mentality is required to run a successful business.

The preparation it took to run around a track as fast as I could was hard. After years of physical exertion and psychological pressure, athletics took its toll.


Now I’m in business – at ‘club’ level, keeping to the athletics analogy. There are differences – it’s not as black and white as sport but there are also similarities. The pressures of getting it right every day, and the expectations of reaching the highest standards while relying on others to help take your vision further, are a mind game each day in the same way as they are for an Olympic athlete.

As in athletics, in business there’s this underlying acceptance that you have to dedicate your life to the pursuit of excellence. Planning, tracking, monitoring, adjusting, succeeding – and failing – are all part of your journey. How do we understand the emotional rollercoaster that we go through?

Being an elite international athlete is about finding your best form, understanding the enormous commitment required to be even better than your last race, and always focusing on the outcomes, adjusting the targets and mindset so you can believe in your ability on a regular basis.


It’s the ability to see progress as small steps, as well as wanting to climb the mountain to glory, that sets people apart. As long as you learn to accept and work well with the team around you, using their skills to help you make these incremental gains, you can go far. A vision is about strategy, and strategy cannot be implemented on your own.

The life of an athlete can be painful and terrifying as much as magical and rewarding. The experiences last a lifetime. This is where I see so many parallels.

One lesson I have learned from athletics is that your competitors want success as much as you do. We are all individuals, and that’s what can make our businesses unique. The flair and creativity that you bring to your planning can set you apart. To bring a team together, they have to buy into the same vision. Without that, they are not good enough to help you reach your potential. Business is as cut-throat as athletics. There can only be one winner for you – you.


So the attitudes, attributes and behaviours you adopt to succeed in business are the same as those of an elite athlete – being prepared for change and understanding the pitfalls, as well as finding the openings.

Knowing what ‘gold’ is to you  sets the vision for you to follow, researching your competitors to  gain learning and understanding. Daily, weekly and monthly targets enable you to climb those same small steps that keep you focused on the overall goal, and on top of your  own mountain.

Having project-managed the build, and now implementing my new business, Café 1809 in Hildenborough, Kent, I know only too well the long journey ahead. It involves intense psychological pressure, and a life of dedication, determination, planning, excitement and hunger to succeed, with inevitable disappointments along the way. I still have that big mountain to climb, but I’m determined to succeed, just as I was on the track.


Dame Kelly Holmes won gold in the 800-metre and 1,500-metre events at the 2004 Olympics. She owns Café 1809 and founded the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust www.cafe1809.co.uk

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