London: One of Britain’s most well-known Olympic champions, Dame Kelly Holmes, on Sunday said that she was relieved to come out as gay after having hidden her sexuality for years. The 52-year-old two-time gold medallist athlete also revealed how she struggled with her mental health as she had to keep several same-sex relationships she had during her time in the Women’s Royal Army Corps secret, for fear of being court marshalled. Until 2000, it was illegal for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF), but the law has since been changed.

“I needed to do this now, for me. It was my decision. I’m nervous about saying it. I feel like I’m going to explode with excitement,” Holmes told the ‘Sunday Mirror’ newspaper. “Sometimes I cry with relief. The moment this comes out, I’m essentially getting rid of that fear,” she said. Speaking to coincide with the Pride month which celebrates and raises awareness about LGBTQ+ communities in June, Dame Kelly shared that she realised she was gay at the age of 17 after kissing a fellow female soldier, and that her family and friends have known since 1997.

She contacted a military LGBTQ+ leader in 2020 to find out if she could be sanctioned for breaking army rules and was told she would not be. “I felt like I could breathe again, one little call could have saved 28 years of heartache,” she told the newspaper. Holmes took part in her final major championship in 2004, for a double gold medal-winning performance in the 800 metres and 1500 metres at the Athens Olympics. In 2005, the year she retired from athletics, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II.

She has since been made an honorary colonel with the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment and also set up a charity to support retired athletes to transition out of their sport.

Social media was flooded with support for the Olympic champion since her interview, with many lauding her courage which would help other young sportspersons feel confident about their sexuality.

“I can finally breathe. Yes I have been petrified of putting this out ? you have no idea. This journey has been the hardest part of life. Living with any kind of fear is debilitating,” Holmes wrote on Instagram as the interview was published.

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