Athlete to organiser - the other side of the medal
Chris Holmes MBE (King’s 1991)
Chris Holmes was taught to swim by his mother when he was two years old, and he soon joined the local swimming club. At 14, he lost his sight overnight, but still went on to qualify for the county swimming championships. Soon afterwards, Chris joined the City of Birmingham club to focus on training. “They had an integrated squad, so I did the same training as everybody else in a 25-yard Victorian pool.”
“Winning is the culmination of thousands of hours of training – the sense of the magnitude of what you’ve achieved personally, for your team, your country. But to me it also feels both like it was yesterday, and like it happened to someone else.”
Chris was only 16 when he competed in his first Paralympic Games. “I came back from Seoul with two silver medals and a bronze, and I didn’t think that anything could be better,” he says. Four years of hard training, alongside a degree in Social and Political Science at King’s, followed. “I remember both some good swim meets and some good drinking sessions with the Tadpoles,” he says. “The greatest thing about Cambridge University is that you can combine really hard work studying with really great sports.”
Despite the challenge of a degree, Chris’s focus remained firmly on the Paralympics. His dedication was to be magnificently rewarded. In the 1992 Barcelona Games, Chris won a record six gold medals – a feat never equalled by any other Briton. “For me, the sixth gold in Barcelona is my most memorable,” he says. “It was the 100-metre freestyle, and not just my last race but also the final session. I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to win that race and do something that no one else has done before. It felt incredible!”
Chris went on to swim in the Atlanta and Sydney Paralympics, winning a further three gold medals. He also won a string of world and European titles and broke 35 world records.
After many years as a lawyer, Chris is now at LOCOG, promoting the Paralympic Games across the UK and internationally as Director of Paralympic Integration. “When you are competing, you are focused on the pool and your event,” he says. “As an organiser, you see the thousands of details. It is a privilege to get the details right so all the athletes need to do is focus on the sport.”