Athletics: Lewis and Radcliffe back on track for Olympic ambition

There were heartening Olympic indicators for two of Britain's premier women athletes yesterday as Denise Lewis, who will defend her heptathlon title in Athens, produced highly satisfactory shot put and javelin performances here at the Loughborough International meeting, and Paula Radcliffe indicated her preparations are in good order by making herself available to run her opening race of the season in this month's European Cup.

Lewis, who had to scratch from last month's Gotzis heptathlon because of the foot injury which has afflicted her since her win in Sydney, finished the day with a glow about her, which has not been evident for several years after achieving best marks of 15.40 metres in the shot and 49.35m in the javelin.

The results were not too far off her personal bests of 16.12m and 51.13m, but perhaps more revealingly they compared closely to what she achieved at a similar stage of the season before the last Olympics. Eight weeks before the Games got underway in Sydney, Lewis shot-putted 15.07m and threw the javelin 49.42m en route to her British record of 6,831 points.

The problem for the 31-year-old champion now, however, is that the injury to her left foot, which she has carried since Sydney, makes her performance in the other five events unpredictable. She still plans to compete in the 100m hurdles and long jump at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in Gateshead on 27 June.

"It's been a good day, and I've enjoyed it," she said after her first competitive outing since a relatively downbeat performance in the National Indoor Championships four months ago, adding that her coach, Charles van Commenee, had been satisfied by her efforts. "My coach has said he's pleased, so we can cross two events off the list and think in terms of the others.

"My foot's been quite good today, but we'll have to see how it's feeling tomorrow. There's nothing worse than training in pain, but on the good days I feel great. It's managing that pendulum of emotions and trying to stay in the centre.

"Charles would love to be writing out training programmes for two or three-week periods, but it's not possible. Some weeks we just tear up the programme and start again.

"But if I can make it in one piece to Athens then yes, I believe I can be in the medal zone. But I can't allow myself to get too excited right now because we've got a long way to go."

Radcliffe, who is still training at altitude in Font Romeu, will almost certainly be named in Britain's European Cup team tomorrow for the two-day event in Bydogosyz, Poland, the weekend after next. She is reportedly fit and well after having an operation for a hernia in April earlier this year. Radcliffe is now planning to make her first appearance on a British track in almost two years when she races over 10,000 metres at Gateshead, and a shorter run in Poland would serve as a useful sharpener for that event.

"It would lift the other women in the team to have the best woman athlete in the world there alongside them," Max Jones, the UK Athletics Performance Director, said yesterday.

Meanwhile, an up-and-coming British woman athlete was making a name for herself yesterday here at the Loughborough International meeting. Christine Ohuruogu, 20 last month, staked a strong claim for an Olympic 400m place by reducing her personal best from 54.21sec to 52.20.

Ohuruogu, of Newham and Essex Beagles, was a surprise winner of a bronze medal at last year's European Junior Championships, where she was the slowest of the field and drawn in lane eight.

But she has impressed experienced observers with her relaxed and powerful running in recent weeks, and now looks capable of filling a gap that opened up this week with the announcement that the Olympic bronze medallist Katharine Merry would miss this year's Olympics with a foot injury.

Phillips Idowu, who achieved the Olympic A standard with his triple jump of 17.0m last Saturday week - his first competition after a 23-month injury lay-off - followed up with a distance of 16.98 in Turin on Friday evening.

Nick Buckfield celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday by achieving the Olympic A standard pole vault mark of 5.65m, while Tim Benjamin became the first Briton to better the Olympic A 400m mark of 45.55 this season with a 45.47 clocking in Seville.

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