Athletics: Lewis has a real fight on her hands

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The Independent Online
WHILE ONE of Britain's hopes for Spanish gold was standing at the mercy of a Barber in Seville last night, another was in danger of being cruelly cut down by injury. The razor-sharp form of Eunice Barber left Denise Lewis facing the prospect of emerging from the heptathlon with no more than a silver lining. For Steve Smith, too, the dream of a World Championship title looked to be disappearing in the Estadio Olimpico last night.

Unknown to the British team management, the Liverpool Harrier had been suffering from an injury to his right ankle which three hours of daily treatment, and a course of pain killing injections, had failed to cure. He managed to clear 2.26m in the qualifying round of the high jump but pulled up sharply, clutching his ankle, in attempting 2.29m. He departed the arena, tight lipped, heading for the physiotherapy room, unaware that he had done just enough to qualify for the final tomorrow.

Even if he takes his place, though, and a decision had not been reached as the opening day programme drew to a close last night, Smith is clearly in no condition to challenge for gold. It is another unkind twist for the Olympic silver medallist, who has risen to the top of the world rankings since suffering a prolapsed disc 14 months ago.

Lewis, by comparison, still has a fighting chance. She does, after all, trail Barber by just a single point after the first four events of the heptathlon yesterday. While the Wolverhampton woman should gain an advantage in the javelin today, Barber happens to be a world class competitior in the long jump - she holds the French record and has beaten Fiona May, the 1995 world champion, this season - and is likely to finish ahead in the seventh and final event, the 800m.

"Eunice has got two strong events tomorrow," Lewis acknowledged. "I just hope it goes down to the wire. She was in awesome shape today but I knew she would be the one to beat."

Lewis' rival may not be the most celebrated Barber Seville has ever known but, like the operatic Figaro she has made a big impression here. The athlete from trouble-torn Sierra Leone, who became a French citizen in December, got off to a flying start in the opening event, the 100m hurdles, powering to a decisive victory in 12.89sec. Lewis, by contrast, made a dreadful start in all respects.

Left in her blocks when the gun fired and sluggish over the eight hurdles, the Wolverhampton woman who took the European and Commonwealth titles last summer crossed the line in 13.61sec - her slowest time in five years of international competition. She recovered with a 1.87m clearance in the high jump, her best ever performance in a heptathlon, but Barber rose to an even greater height, 1.93m.

The Birchfield Harrier's fightback gained momentum in the shot put. Another personal best, 16.12m, against Barber's 12.37m put her into the lead, by 65 points. Barber, though, finished the day with 23.52sec in the 200m while Lewis clocked 24.26sec. It left the Frenchwoman with a golden glint in her eyes and 3,994 points and Lewis with furrows in her brow and 3,993 points in her bag.

Only two male British sprinters have ever run in a World Championship 100m final and Jason Gardener, Dwain Chambers and Darren Campbell will all get the chance to follow in the spikemarks of Allan Wells and Linford Christie today. Gardener and Chambers won their quarter-final heats, clocking 10.04sec and 10.08sec respectively, while Campbell secured his semi-final place by finishing third in his heat with a time of 10.12sec.

The two Britons in the women's 100m failed to make it through the first day, Christine Bloomfield falling at the first round hurdle and Joice Maduaka failing to make the cut in the quarter-finals.

They might have taken some consolation, though, from a defeat of sorts for Marion Jones. The world's fastest woman was beaten to the top of the medal podium by her husband. With a final round put of 21.79m, C J Hunter produced a golden shot and kept ahead of at least one of the Joneses.