Lewis backs Britain to reach historic heights in Barcelona

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The Independent Online

The former Olympic champion Denise Lewis is confident that Britain will be able to hit their ambitious target of 10-15 medals at this month's European Championships in Barcelona.

The UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee has declared that the 72-strong squad has the potential to achieve Britain's best medal haul at the championships in 12 years, but the Dutchman's claims came despite the team being without serious podium contenders such as the injured Christine Ohuruogu and Paula Radcliffe, who is pregnant.

Lewis, who won gold in the heptathlon at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, is confident that the team can reach the targets set by Van Commenee, who predicts that Team GB could come away with eight golds among their haul. "Getting 10 medals is a realistic target for sure," said Lewis, who won gold in the heptathlon at the European Championships in Budapest in 1998. "We have some real solid medal prospects so I do think 10 medals is realistic, and I'm sure there will be more.

"Jessica Ennis is hands down favourite for the heptathlon ... [there's] Dai Green in the 400m, Dwain Chambers in the 100m, we have a chance in the men's and women's relays at 4x100m and 4x400m, Phillips Idowu in the triple jump, Jenny Meadows in the 800m, Michael Rimmer has a good chance of a gold and there could be a medal for one of the hurdlers too, so it's a healthy situation. It could be one of our most successful championships ever."

World champion heptathlete Ennis will captain the team for the tournament, which begins on July 27. The Sheffield-born athlete saw her preparations for the event take a blow when she had to miss two weeks of training due to an ear infection earlier this month. The 24-year-old showed signs of rustiness when she finished last in the 200m at the Aviva Grand Prix last weekend although her javelin throw of 46.15 metres was close to her personal best. Lewis is confident that Ennis will live up to being favourite in Barcelona. "Jess is in great shape at the moment," said Lewis. "Her biggest rival, Hyleas Fountain of the USA, isn't going to be at the Europeans so I really do think she can go out there and win it.

"The infection that she had probably did her the world of good because she probably needed to rest a bit. With athletes you're always trying to peak for your main goal of the year and for her it is the European Championships."

Ennis has ruled herself out of the Commonwealth Games in India later this year and Lewis believes the move will be beneficial. "For Jess the first focus is the 2012 Olympics and everything else pales into insignificance really," she said. "The Commonwealth Games doesn't quite fit into her training plan. She starts her preparation for the World Championships next year around the start of when the Commonwealth Games takes place so she can't afford to lose that time and that's why I think she has taken the right decision."

*Seven American sprinters have been given back the relay medals they won at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney which were later stripped from them because team-mate Marion Jones was doping at the time.

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