Athletics: Lewis wins race to be fit for Paris heptathlon

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The Independent Online

The Olympic heptathlon gold medallist Denise Lewis confirmed yesterday that she will compete at the World Championships, which begin in Paris next Saturday.

The positive news, which followed the withdrawal of the 10,000 metres favourite Paula Radcliffe on Friday, was welcomed by Max Jones, UK Athletics' chief selector. "It's very important to the team to have one of its true stars competing," Jones said. "I know she hasn't competed at this level for a couple of years, but Denise is capable of winning a medal."

Lewis, twice a silver medallist at the World Championships, met the qualifying standard for Paris when second in the European Cup of Combined Events at the beginning of last month, but then suffered a serious bout of sickness. She missed vital training as a result and it was believed at one point that she might miss the Paris trip and wait until an international meeting in Talence in the middle of next month to try to gain the qualifying mark for next year's Olympic Games.

But after setting up a training camp a fortnight ago on the outskirts of Berlin with the controversial former East German coach, Ekkart Arbeit, Lewis declared she was fit to compete in Paris. She had final workouts at low-key meetings in Belgium over the weekend, and the go-ahead was relayed in an early-morning telephone call to Frank Dick, the overall co-ordinator of her training programme.

Dick said: "It was a mixed weekend for Denise, her best performance coming with a 13.59sec time in the 100m hurdles and an excellent 6.40m long jump, marginally disallowed as a no-jump. Denise didn't quite get what she expected in her javelin and high jump competitions, but overall she is happy.

"She is, given her recent illness, as ready as she possibly can be. Denise is pretty confident she can challenge for a medal, given she is in the top half dozen performers in the world this year. But before the European Cup meeting, she hadn't done a heptathlon for nearly three years and, even when 100 per cent, it can drain the body for weeks afterwards.

"Although she will be fighting for a medal, physically, it is a very tough turnaround for any athlete, more so for Denise after such a long absence."

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