Athletics: Lewis steps up Olympic training

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The Independent Online

Denise Lewis, the Olympic heptathlon champion, is among several British medal hopefuls who have begun serious preparations for this year's Athens Games at a warm-weather training camp in South Africa.

Lewis, who flew south on Friday, is again working under the direction of Charles van Commenee, the Dutchman who guided her to the gold medal in Sydney four years ago. She spent the first half of her winter programme working with him, making full use of the state-of-the-art High Performance Centre in Birmingham since returning to the Midlands to live and prepare for the defence of her title.

Van Commenee, the UK Athletics technical director for combined events, travelled with Lewis and fellow athletes to what he considers a very important part of their build-up to the start of the Games in August.

Van Commenee explained that while athletes benefit greatly from using the "wonderfully warm High Performance Centres" in this country, "they have to hone their preparations for Athens in high temperatures and in similar circumstances to those they will meet at the Games. People have to get accustomed to heat and humidity. They have to get away from their normal environment and the day-to-day distractions of home to focus on the business of preparing to their full ability. A camp such as this definitely serves a purpose."

Britain should have another competitor in the heptathlon now that the qualifying standard has been lowered, and is now also within reach of Kelly Sotheron.

The Commonwealth and European triple jump champion Ashia Hansen, who will be one of the brightest hopes for an Athens medal, is making the trip after recovering from the Achilles operation that caused her to miss last summer's World Championships.

Other hopefuls include Dean Macey, who has not contested a decathlon since placing third in the 2001 World Championships, and Phillips Idowu, who is expected to be the natural successor to the only other track and field title-winner in Sydney, Jonathan Edwards. Idowu, second at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, behind Edwards, was out of action with injury throughout last summer.

The long jumpers Nathan Morgan and Chris Tomlinson, the British record holder, also make the trip accompanied by Jonathan Moore, who is expected to trouble both his elder rivals having recovered from a serious knee injury.