Athletics: Lewis has to settle for silver

World Athletics Championships: Americans complete sprint double as Barber beats British heptathlete to gold

DENISE LEWIS, laden with responsibility to restore the image of British athletics following the recent spate of doping cases, delivered a performance to be proud of here yesterday - but not the gold medal she and her supporters had so fervently wished for.

Britain's European and Commonwealth heptathlon champion had to settle for another World Championship silver to add to the one she picked up two years ago after finding the exuberant challenge of France's Eunice Barber just too much to handle.

The irony was that Barber - who gave up her Sierra Leone nationality a year after finishing two places behind Lewis at the 1996 Olympics - had toyed with the idea of becoming British before opting for the more generous support structure of the French.

The fortunes of competition switched with bewildering swiftness for Lewis in the final three events yesterday. After winning an appeal over a disallowed long jump which kept her tantalisingly within reach of Barber, she then disappointed in the event which has always been one of her greatest strengths, the javelin, to put the gold medal realistically out of reach.

With only the 800 metres remaining, Lewis was 120 points - the equivalent of more than 17 seconds - adrift of the overnight leader, whose personal best for the two-lap distance was almost five seconds faster than hers.

Barber duly won the last race in 2min 15.65sec, taking the title with 6,861 points. Lewis finished sixth in 2:16.87 for a total of 6,724, 12 points off her own British and Commonwealth record.

Missing that mark was one of the two regrets the Briton expressed afterwards. "I'm disappointed because I didn't break the record, and because I got the silver," she said. "But I knew that I'd have had to be exceptional to beat Eunice over the two days, because she was fantastic. I feel very drained, as if I've just spent the weekend at Alton Towers.

"The long jump decision was vital to stay in with a chance of the gold. It wasn't a foul - it really wasn't... but then I threw it away with the javelin."

Lewis - who effectively secured the 1994 Commonwealth title and last year's European title with outstanding javelin throws - managed only one scoring throw from her three efforts - 47.44m.

In contrast, Barber, who had broken personal bests for the 100m hurdles and the high jump on Saturday, rose to the challenge once again by flinging the spear - the balance of which has been altered this year to limit the distances being achieved - to 49.88m. Another personal best.

Lewis had also upped her game on the opening day, recovering from her own relatively poor showing in the hurdles by recording her best performances during heptathlons in the high jump and shot. "I thought I was going to be blown away after the first two events," Lewis said. "But I put myself back in contention at the end of the first day."

This time, however, it proved a challenge too far. As she hung her head and stepped over the line after her final javelin effort had fallen well short, she knew that the day was not going to be hers.

The javelin event was won with 54.82m by the Olympic champion, Ghada Shouaa, back in top-class action for the first time since securing her title in Atlanta. Lewis, bronze medallist on that occasion, had named her as the most dangerous rival, but the Syrian, who only qualified at the last minute for these championships, showed she had lost a lot during her long lay-off.

With four events done, Lewis had entered the second day's competition just one point behind Barber, but she knew that margin was bound to widen given the French athlete's ability in the long jump. Last month, in front of a rapturous Paris crowd, she raised the French record to 7.01m, 34cm further than Lewis's best.

With the last of her three attempts remaining, Lewis had only managed 6.20m, as opposed to Barber's 6.86. Her final effort was longer - but was red-flagged. Lewis protested, and studied both the board - with its 10cm wide strip of plasticine positioned to indicate any jumpers taking off beyond the line - and the video replay.

After a discussion involving several officials, after which Lewis's Dutch coach, Charles von Commenee arrived at her side to put his arm comfortingly around her - an illegal encroachment - Lewis's mark was given as 6.64, which lessened the gap between herself and Barber to 73 points, rather than 214.

Shortly afterwards, however, Lewis's official result was given as 6.20 - not as a result of any French protest, but on the decision of the field judges. Britain protested - and a four-strong jury of appeal accepted their claim, having studied video evidence and the take-off board. They detected no mark where Lewis had taken off. Thus, at length, she was able to return to work in the evening session in buoyant frame of mind.

In the end there was nothign she could do in the 880m, but for Ghada Shouaa the event provided a chance to show the kind of grit that had brought her the the Olympic title in Atlanta. Galvanisingf herself for one last effort, she passed Lewis on the last straight and overhauled Tiia Hautala of Finland to finish fourth. Her effort was rewarded with a bronze medal, by just three points over Germany's Sabine Braun, who finished the 880m in seventh place.

Kelly Holmes, face contorted with effort, failed to earn a place in tomorrow's 800m final as a fastest loser despite moving up from last at the bell to fourth in a semi-final won by Mozambique's Maria Mutola in 1min 59.84sec. Holmes, who made a late switch from the 1500m because she felt injury had prevented her acquiring sufficient endurance background over the winter, recorded 2:00.77, but faster losers in the next heat meant she failed to qualify.

John Mayock also crashed out of contention in the men's 1500m semi-final, brought down from behind by another stumbling runner.

Michael Johnson stilled the rumours that he was carrying an injury as he qualified with ease in his 400m heat. He was joined in the next round by Britain's Mark Richardson and Jamie Baluch.

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