Athletics: The World Championships

Athletics: Sotherton quicksteps into the spotlight

Girl so often in Lewis' shadow now ready for her own starring role

The UK Athletics High Performance Centre that stands next to the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham is near-deserted. Kelly Sotherton has been here all morning, training all on her lonesome. "Shot put and high jump," she says.

This being a centre for athletic performance, there is nowhere in the vast main hall specifically designated for sitting and talking. Settling on to the pole- vault bed, the Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist pulls her long legs up to her knees and discusses the ballroom merits of her sometime training partner. "Is Denise a 'farmer' or a 'diva'?" she says, echoing the question based on the opinions given by the experts at the start and the finish of Denise Lewis's quest for glory on Strictly Come Dancing.

"I think she was a bit of a diva, especially in the skimpy outfits," Sotherton opines. "I thought she danced really well." So did the Birchfield Harrier vote for her club-mate when it came to the final? "No, I wasn't going to waste my 10p on texting in," Sotherton says, laughing at the confession. "No, I did vote for her the week before, but in the final I think Jill was probably the best dancer. Denise did admit that."

Jill - Jill Halfpenny - might not be quite the full shilling as a ballroom dancer, but she gave Lewis more than a rumba for her money in the Strictly Come Dancing final and in the final of the Champion of Champions Christmas Special, relegating the 2000 Olympic heptathlon gold medallist to the silver-medal position on both occasions. Perhaps Sotherton might go one better if she followed in the quickstep of her fellow heptathlete. She has, after all, confessed to having been on the dance floor of a Birmingham nightclub while Lewis was striking Olympic gold in Sydney. "I don't know whether I was dancing," Sotherton ponders. "I was drunk, probably - another stone heavier, eating chips. I wish I'd found Charles five years earlier, really."

Charles is Charles van Commenee, the Dutch coach who guided Lewis to the heptathlon title in Sydney and who, since taking Sotherton under his expert wing in March 2003, has transformed the overweight nightclubber from an underachieving heptathlete, ranked 57th in the world, into one of only two British track-and-field athletes who won an individual Olympic medal in Athens in the summer just gone. Before Kelly Holmes hit her golden heights in the 800m and 1500m, Kelly Sotherton took the bronze medal in the seven-event test of all-round athletic ability that is the heptathlon. Lewis, who had struggled to find fitness and form since her success in Sydney, failed to finish the competition.

The companionship of Lewis and the direction provided by Van Commenee were both instrumental in Sotherton's graduation to medal status. Now, though, just five months later, Sotherton is ploughing a lone furrow as she strives to consolidate her hard-earned place among the world's élite multi-eventers. Lewis has yet to return to the training track - in Birmingham, at any rate.

"I don't know Denise's training situation," Sotherton says. "I don't know what she's doing." Van Commenee, meanwhile, is about to leave Birmingham, where he has worked for the past four years as the technical director of jumps and multi-events with UK Athletics, to become the sports performance director with the Dutch National Olympic Committee.

Thus Sotherton has been left training by herself, and directing her own coaching, ahead of Van Commenee's scheduled departure later this month. "I've got five specialist coaches that I use for different events, but I am the performance director, as I call it," she says. "I direct everybody and I coach myself for running. That's how it's working at the moment, and it's going pretty well.

"Charles has taught me a lot: how to manage my time; how to be productive. And he speaks to enough people here to make sure I'm on the right lines. I had a great comment from him yesterday. He said, 'Ooh, you look really strong. You look like a heptathlete.' That's good to hear, coming from Charles."

It is indeed. It was a lack of strength in the javelin that cost Sotherton the silver medal in Athens, and one of the specialist coaches with whom she is now working happens to be John Trower, the javelin guru who guided Steve Backley to a trio of Olympic medals and to two world records. It is also good to hear of Van Commenee proffering praise, the pragmatic Amsterdammer having attracted much critical attention for publicly dismissing Sotherton as a medal contender on the eve of the Olympics and for accusing her of "running like a wimp" after her performance in the final event in Athens, the 800m, which left her a tantalising 11 points short of the Lithuanian Austra Skujyte in the chase for the silver medal.

"Charles is always going to be remem-bered for calling me a wimp, but people have got to remember that he is the one who has got me where I am now," Sotherton says. "I can understand why he said it, but I wish people would forget it and stop portraying him in a bad light. He's just emotional, and that's what all coaches should be like when their athletes don't do what they expect. Charles has made the difference in me being 57th in the world two years ago and being an Olympic bronze medallist now."

Two years ago, Sotherton was working as a debt collector in Birmingham and planning to become a 400m hurdler, until she qualified for National Lottery funding, which allowed her to train full-time under Van Commenee. Now, two months past her 28th birthday, the native Isle of Wighter is striking out on her own, aiming for a place on the podium at the European Indoor Championships in Madrid in March and at the World Championships in Helsinki in August.

A medal at both championships is well within Sotherton's scope, though the strong favourite for gold in Madrid and in Helsinki will be Carolina Kluft, the 21-year-old Swede who has swept the board in every major indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon since the summer of 2002. "The European indoor pentathlon is the only title she hasn't got, and she'll be going for that in Madrid," Sotherton points out. "Obviously, other people are going for the silver and the bronze, but you never know. No athlete is invincible. Carolina hasn't had any major injury worries so far and she's had nobody really pressuring her in competitions. She is absolutely amazing, though. She's so talented. She could probably do any individual event, apart from distance running, and be world class."

Sotherton herself was classy enough as a netballer and a hockey player to represent the Isle of Wight in both sports. "I think I also won a medal in the Isle of Wight swimming championships," she says, struggling to define the precise extent of her youthful talents.

Perhaps one day she might even get the chance to show her worth as a foxtrotting diva on the dance floor. "Maybe in five years' time I'd have a go," she muses. In the meantime, it is strictly track work for Denise Lewis's ex-partner.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee