Lewis throws down gauntlet with record

Denise Lewis could hardly have opened this Olympic season better. In her first competition of the season, the Briton broke her own three-year-old Commonwealth heptathlon record with a score of 6,831 points at the Decastar 2000 meeting here yesterday.

Denise Lewis could hardly have opened this Olympic season better. In her first competition of the season, the Briton broke her own three-year-old Commonwealth heptathlon record with a score of 6,831 points at the Decastar 2000 meeting here yesterday.

Lewis laid the foundation for the record on Saturday when she put herself 113 points ahead of where she was overnight when she set the previous record in Austria in June 1997. In the final event yesterday, the 800m, she needed to be quicker than 2min 18.90sec to improve her record, which she had set by running a personal best of 2:16.70 in Götzis. She crowned her weekend by 2min 12.20sec to beat her old record of 6,736 by 95 points.

"I came here with great expectations and they've been realised," said 27-year-old Lewis, who is determined to win gold in Sydney this September after finishing third at the 1996 Games.

A distant second to Lewis here yesterday was the Pole Ursula Wlodarczyck, who scored 6,351 points.

Lewis has clearly put a calf operation last autumn behind her along with a niggling shoulder injury, which kept her away from her specialist event all summer until this weekend. After the injury setbacks, Lewis did not have record-breaking in mind, she was intent only on doing her best. However, she did not have to face Eunice Barber, who beat her into second place at the World Championships in Seville last August. The Frenchwoman withdrew at the last minute from this event, citing a hamstring injury.

Barber, who will be Lewis's strongest rival for the gold in Syndey, might have feared what would happen. This was a tremendous performance by Lewis, who achieved her record-breaking performance by setting personal bests in five of the seven disciplines as she toiled in the burning sunshine in front of more than 10,000 spectators at the Stade De Thouars.

The Birchfield Harrier said: "What was important coming here was giving it everything I had and performing to the best of my ability. I think I did that particularly in the 800 where I needed to show competence and improve my confidence by producing a fast time. Overall I think I showed I'm in good shape and pedalling in the right direction towards the Olympics.

"I didn't really expect PBs. I expected to perform well and express myself by good performances in each event. That's what I always try to do in the heptathlon, and I achieved it again today."

On Saturday, Lewis, who now spends most of her time training in Amsterdam, had produced the best first-day performance of her career, 3,980 points from four events.She said: "I've been working really hard on my hurdling technique and I almost got it right."

Observers said it was perfect but Lewis commented: "I nicked the sixth and eighth ones but I kept my discipline, particularly in the closing stages. The pressure wasn't as great as it could have been and when I come up against some of the faster girls I know it will be harder to maintain the discipline. But it is something I am learning to do."

After the high jump, where she cleared a season's best of 1.84m, Lewis admitted: "I've spent so little time on it it has to be promising."

In the shot she managed 15.07m. "It's nice to know I can still throw over 15m when I need to," she said, adding that there were still technical problems to work upon.

Needing to run 25.22sec or faster to surpass her opening day performance in Götzis, she ran 24.01sec behind South Africa's Maralize Visser Fouche.

* Faulty drug tests in Britain's leading laboratory have led UK Sports, the body that oversees sports in Britain, to demand guarantees they will not be repeated. The chairman of UK Sports, Sir Rodney Walker, said that if the credibility of the King's College laboratory - Britain's only International Olympic Committee accredited laboratory - were to slip much further, UK Sport could start sending their athletes' urine samples to be tested in other countries.

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