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Athletics: Controversy over coach Arbeit is 'hurting,' says Lewis

Denise Lewis has two tasks in the Estonian port of Tallinn this weekend. The first, in her first heptathlon since she won the Olympic title in Sydney three years ago, will be to attain the World Championship qualifying total of 6,105 points.

The second task is a more nebulous one for the 30-year-old Olympic champion, who gave birth to a daughter, Lauryn, last spring. As she seeks the performance that will allow her to return to major competition in Paris next month, Lewis will have to put to the back of her mind the controversy which has accompanied the appointment of Dr Ekkart Arbeit, formerly head of East Germany's track and field programme, as one of her technical advisers.

The appointment of a man who has admitted he oversaw a discredited doping regime has been fiercely criticised in some parts of the media, and last weekend Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, called the decision "unwise".

Lewis explained yesterday that she was merely following a routine that has worked in the past by employing first-class advisers to assist her.

"The players may be different now," she said, 'but that network is the same and the aim is the same - to get me to where I want to be, to realise a new dream."

Responding to the media criticism, she added: "I have always lived by the rules. My sport sets them out very clearly and everyone working with me knows them and adheres to them. From the doctors and physios to the coaching team, that does not change.

'My job is hard enough. The heptathlon is seven jobs, really. I am trying to climb back to the top of my mountain, and I cannot understand why they are trying to make my life more difficult than it is. They must know they are hurting, yet they persist."

Her fiercest critics believe the system over which Arbeit had control did too much human damage through its institutionalised doping programme for him to be allowed to work in the sport again, and add that he has been rejected as a coach by both the Australian and French federations.

But Lewis's main coach, Frank Dick, the former British national coach, insisted that Arbeit, who is also in Tallinn, had renounced doping in the past, and begun to take measures to halt it once he took charge.

"He became the head coach in 1988-89," Dick said. "He could not have done anything about the cleaning-up until that point. When he took over he was the man who was leading the programme to stop the doping. The information I have is that that actually happened over those two years."

Dick is confident that Lewis can reach 6,200 points this weekend as she competes for Britain in the Spar European Cup of Combined Events.

"It will be nice to be part of the team and not be in the wilderness," Lewis said. "It's been a long and pretty lonely time. It will be nice to be back competing. Pregnancy is a pit stop. Thousands of women do it and break into their careers. I didn't believe for one second that I could not and would not return to the sport."