Athletics: Lewis back with former coach

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The Independent Online

Denise Lewis confirmed yesterday that she is back in Birmingham and working with her former coach Charles van Commenee in an effort to retain her Olympic heptathlon title next year.

The 31-year-old athlete, born in West Bromwich but resident in Belgium for the last seven years, has severed her links with the former national coach, Frank Dick, and the controversial Dr Ekkart Arbeit as she seeks to return to the summit of her event in time for the Athens Games.

"If I've counted correctly, there are 317 days to go - and I cannot be lazy for a single one," said Lewis, who had her first training session with Van Commenee in two years at Birmingham's Alexander Stadium and High Performance Centre yesterday. "There is a lot of work to be done," she added.

Van Commenee, who is the UK Athletics technical director for Jumps and Combined Events, has adapted his schedule in order to work with Lewis twice a day, six days a week until the Olympics. He was brutally honest about just how much work is now required from the woman he guided to victory in Sydney three years ago.

The Dutchman did not agree with the assessment that, after missing the 2001 Edmonton World Championships and then having a baby girl, Lewis had performed creditably to finish fifth at the World Championships in Paris two months ago, where Sweden's Carolina Kluft became only the third woman to better 7,000 points. Lewis's total of 6,254 points was well short of her best of 6,831.

"It was painful to watch her underperform the whole summer," Van Commenee said. "I said when we parted company soon after Edmonton that I didn't think she could win any more, and it's more difficult now than it has ever been because firstly Denise has dropped 600 points and secondly the others have moved on."

Van Commenee said he had been persuaded by Lewis's persistence after she had first asked him in the summer to resume coaching her. "Denise is on a mission to retain her title. She will do anything to be in medal contention again, but she's a way off at the moment."

Lewis, however, is now preparing, in her own words, for "training in the morning, sleeping in the afternoon and training some evenings." For all his reservations, Van Commenee is happy with her commitment. "In terms of her dedication I've tested her out several times and she's come up with the right answers," he said.

Asked if Dick and Arbeit were now "out of the picture" as far as Lewis was concerned, Van Commenee replied in the affirmative, although he added that Lewis's decision had not been prompted by the adverse press reaction to her partnership with Arbeit, who once ran the now discredited East German track and field programme.

"Denise is the type of person who will do the opposite of what other people want her to do," he said. "She is grateful for the input of her two former coaches. There is no such thing as a nasty separation. This has been a performance-driven decision."