Athletics: Lewis returns to take shot at hurdles

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The Independent Online

Denise Lewis makes her first competitive appearance in Britain for three years this weekend when she takes part in the Norwich Union World Indoor Trials and AAA Championships in Sheffield. In an ideal world Lewis would be taking part in today's long jump, but she has not been able to do any jumping since she twisted her ankle during warm-weather training in South Africa last month.

Instead, the 31-year-old Olympic heptathlon champion will prepare for the defence of her title in Athens by taking part in tomorrow's shot putt and 60 metres hurdles events. She won the hurdles in this competition seven years ago, and she has a realistic chance of winning the shot, where she will be looking for an effort of around 15.50m.

Lewis, who is back with the coach who took her to the Olympic title, Charles van Commenee, after parting company with the controversial former East German trainer Ekkart Arbeit last autumn, knows she has a lot to do in a short time if she is to compete with the two women who took gold and silver at last year's World Championships, Sweden's Carolina Kluft and Eunice Barber, of France.

"I originally planned to come out earlier this season but an ankle injury delayed my preparations," Lewis said. "However, training has gone well over the last few weeks and I think I'm fit enough to do myself justice in these two events. "I'm not ready to jump yet but the shot and hurdles will be great preparation to get me into the swing of competition again. I've been out of competition for some time and only took part in two major events last year, but it's important to be competitive as I set out on the road to Athens."

Her appearance at the English Institute of Sport's new track, which has sold out its 2,000 capacity on both days, adds to a line-up that includes Jason Gardener, Kelly Holmes and Italy's double world long jump champion, Fiona May.

Gardener, the reigning European indoor champion, is an overwhelming favourite to match Bob Frith's record of four 60m titles in this competition against a field that is likely to include 200m specialists Christian Malcolm and Dwayne Grant, as well as the Commonwealth long jump champion, Nathan Morgan, and the triple jumper Phillips Idowu. But with the former world indoor bronze medallist Mark Lewis-Francis likely to claim one of the two places on offer once he starts his indoor season at next weekend's Birmingham Games, Gardener's opponents would appear to be running for pride and preparation.

Holmes looks sure to win the 800m, but her presence may pull Sheffield's own European under-23 champion, Rebecca Lyne, through to the qualifying time of 2min 4sec required for next month's World Indoor Championships in Budapest. Holmes is almost certain to switch to the 1500m in Budapest, the event at which she won a world indoor silver medal last year.

Jo Fenn will run the 1500m with a view to earning an 800m place in Hungary. May, who has represented Italy since 1994, will be in competition with Britain's promising AAA outdoor bronze medallist from last year, her younger sister, Natasha.

That contest is unlikely to be as close, however, as those in the men's 60m hurdles, where Robert Newton, Britain's choice for last year's World Championships, has a rematch with the Scot who beat him in Glasgow two weeks ago, Allan Scott; or the men's 200m, where Malcolm and Grant take on the man who heads this year's world rankings with 20.64, Allyn Condon, as well as the rapidly rising Tim Abeyie.

The women's 400m, featuring Helen Karagounis along with Catherine Murphy, Melanie Purkiss, Jenny Meadows and Liz Fairs, promises to be one of the most closely contested events of the weekend.