Athletics: Lewis the early medal prospector

Simon Turnbull discovers the British all-rounder is ready to get down to business
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The Independent Online
WE will have to wait eight weeks to determine whether Alan Pascoe is getting the latterly hamstrung commercial body of British athletics back on track. The first of the four televised domestic meetings the hurdler turned marketeer has undertaken to promote this summer, the Bupa Games at Gateshead, does not take place until 19 July, seven days after football's World Cup final.

In the meantime, the priceless assets Pascoe and British athletics need the most will be endeavouring to get back on golden track. Not since Jonathan Edwards won the world championship triple-jump title three years ago has one of Britain's athletes won a major outdoor championship. That hiatus is destined to end in the months ahead and the big guns for the European Championships in Budapest in August and for the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in September are starting to fire into action.

Colin Jackson has already blasted to his fastest season-opening 110m hurdles since 1993, the summer he broke the world record, clocking 13.14sec in Chemnitz on Wednesday. The 31-year-old Welshman may compete in Germany again today, opening his long-promised assault on Lynn Davies's 30-year- old British long jump record (8.23m), and Jonathan Edwards and Ashia Hansen are both due to open their summer seasons in Seville on Saturday. For Britain's European indoor triple-jump champions it will be very much tentative early season form-finding stuff. But Denise Lewis's weekend in Austria will be quite different.

For one thing, the multi- talented Birchfield Harrier will be entering the grand prix arena in her specialist event for the first time. For another, she will be facing the woman who beat her to World Championship gold last summer and whose European crown she hopes to grasp for herself in August.

The annual combined-events meeting in Gotzis, a small town in the Vorarlberg region which borders the Bodensee - Lake Constance - in Austria, has long been a major date on the calendar. It was there in 1982 that Daley Thompson broke Guido Kratschmer's decathlon world record and the challenge of another of his German rivals, Jurgen "Hollywood" Hingsen. The Gotzis heptathlon on Saturday and Sunday features a throwback to that epic Anglo-German contest of 16 years ago, with Lewis in direct opposition to Sabine Braun. It is also a sequel to the World Championship heptathlon in Athens last August, which Braun won by 85 points.

A swift rematch, and just two months before they meet again with the European title at stake, has been possible because of the International Amateur Athletic Federation's adoption of the heptathlon as a grand prix event. The points totals from three competitions will count towards a final table that will carry the same prize money as the individual events on the grand prix circuit. "It is a chance for heptathletes to gain a little money for the first time," Braun's coach, Gertrud Schafer, said.

The 32-year-old Braun, Schafer reported, "is in good shape, though she has had hamstring problems in the last few weeks". The 25-year-old Lewis would appear to be in fine fettle, too, judging by the championship record she set in the high-jump in the Staffordshire Championships a fortnight ago, 1.83m. She too, however, has been suffering from injury - lateral ligament damage to the left ankle. "It doesn't affect her when she runs on it but it's sore when she jumps," Lewis's long-time coach, Darrell Bunn, said.

Lewis won in Gotzis 12 months ago with 6,736 points, breaking the Commonwealth record. She has since restructured her training, spending much of her time in Amsterdam with the Dutch national multi-events coach Charles Commenee. "I have made several technical changes," Lewis said. "I've always been strong and quick but I've been weak technically. I hope to be at my best in August, for the European Championships. But the serious business starts in Gotzis."