The shoes said ‘go girl, go’, and so the girl went. From sixth at the bell to fifth on the final bend and all the way up to the second step of the Olympic podium. Keely Hodgkinson, a teenage star with a silver shine and a kick like a mad donkey.
To see her wait her turn, to see her take it, to see their faces when she passed them, and then her tears when it was done – goodness, it really was something.
‘What the f***?’ she called out, and yes, good question. What indeed.
Keely Hodgkinson celebrates with the Union Jack after winning silver in the women’s 800m
It is the tale of a 19-year-old runner known to no one outside her sport at the start of the year. A runner whose goal for this summer was to take on the European Junior Championships, not the Olympics. A runner who is not on full funding. A runner who is studying criminology in Leeds. A runner who broke the Under 20 world record for 800m in January, won the European Indoor title in March, the British trials in July and then, on a sticky Tuesday in Tokyo, ripped apart all but one woman in the final of the Olympic Games.
When that girl goes, she truly goes. Magnificent.
By the time she had crossed the line, one minute and 55.88sec after starting, she had not only lifted Team GB’s struggling track and field team out of the muck, she had also broken a British record set by Kelly Holmes 26 years ago.
Maybe those digits were helped by a super-fast track, and super-fast spikes covered in motivational messages from her friends in Wigan. That’s where athletics is at these days. But the rest was all her, brilliantly and absolutely.
Hodgkinson was in shock after she beat Kelly Holmes’ 26-year strong 800m British record
She was beaten by the American phenomenon Athing Mu, also 19, and what a rivalry that might become. And likewise with her talented team-mate, Jemma Reekie, who was 70m from silver and four metres from bronze but lost both, first to Hodgkinson and then to Raevyn Rogers of the US. Fourth.
That was galling for one immense athlete from these shores, a pain that played out in tandem with the sheer joy of another. Dreams and daggers, it’s what the Olympics are about.
Hodgkinson could barely control herself in the aftermath. ‘I just have no words,’ she said. ‘I’m so happy.’
‘If the Olympics had been last year I wouldn’t have been here, but suddenly it’s given me a year to grow and compete with these girls.
Hodgkinson (left) celebrates alongside gold medallist Athing Mu (centre) and bronze medallist Raevyn Rogers (right)
‘The whole thing, this whole year, is cloud nine. From European indoors to breaking some records, to now, on the biggest stage in the world, and still a junior – it is just amazing. And there wasn’t one 19 year old in the race there was two. It is unbelievable.’
Not wrong. Taking Holmes’s record was a particularly big deal to her.
‘I am speechless bout that,’ she said. ‘Kelly is a massive legend of the sport and always be with that double Olympic gold. She is lovely, she has been sending me messages the last few days being very supportive. I am quite in shock about that time, but I couldn’t be happier.’
Alexandra Bell (left), Hodginson (centre) and Jemma Reekie (right) created history as it was the first time that three British women had reached the same final
Her run was exceptional. She bided her time on a quick first lap that was ticked off in 57.8sec by Mu, the fastest 800m runner in the world this year. Hodgkinson was sixth, Reekie was fifth and Alexandra Bell was seventh, taking on a final only two weeks after being added to the team. A great story in her own right.
From that opening lap, it heated up with 250m to go. Reekie made her move first, getting up three places and behind Mu at the apex of the final bend. Hodgkinson was fifth by then, but we knew she could kick because that is how she destroyed Reekie and Laura Muir at the national championships in June. Could she do it again? She waited, and then she went.
First, she stepped to the inside to beat the Ethiopian Habitam Alemu, and then she took the long way round on the outside to pass the Jamaican Natoya Goule. She was up to bronze and behind Reekie who was straining for life on the heels of Mu. Hodgkinson chased her down to get that silver medal, 0.67sec behind gold, and brutally Rogers caught the exhausted Scot as well.
Bell (right) finished seventh and was there at the finish line to congratulate Hodgkinson (left)
Reekie crossed in a personal best of 1:56.90, but she didn’t hide how she felt.
‘I definitely wanted a lot better than that. The time was good but I know that I’m in even better shape than that, and it’s just frustrating when you don’t perform on the big stage because I’ve been flying in training and everything else, but I’ll learn from it and come back stronger.’
Bell was seventh, also in a personal best. In the context of a British athletics team that has veered between bad luck and terrible performances over the past five days, with Adam Gemili’s injury and tears in the 200m being the latest instance of the former, this 800m race might be as good as it gets for that bloated squad.
And yet the suspicion is that for Hodgkinson, in the context of a career, it feels distinctly like it is only the start.
Reekie was looking good value for a medal but she ran out of steam at the end to finish fourth