Support for Lewis as she ponders fitness

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The Independent Online

Denise Lewis received some sympathetic advice here from another British Olympic champion, Jonathan Edwards, as she debated whether a stomach upset would allow her to compete in the World Championship heptathlon.

Lewis, whose chances of taking part were rated at no better than 50-50 on Thursday by her coach Charles van Commenee, was due to make a decision last night about taking part, having woken up feeling, in her coach's words, "a little bit better". Edwards believes her difficulties with form and fitness this season are part of a reaction to her achievement of the supreme prize in her event at last September's Sydney Games.

"Sydney was the pinnacle of Denise's career thus far," Edwards said. "I think her life changed a lot more through winning the Olympic gold medal. For me it wasn't a life-changing experience, because I had beaten all the rest in 1995 and come through then, whereas for her I think it's brought a new dimension.

"It's tough for her to get back on track, to get motivated. Because she has this constant fight against injury. So I think if she doesn't feel she can do herself justice she doesn't owe it to anybody, even to herself, to have to go and perform here. She shouldn't back herself into a corner. She should be completely at liberty to say: 'Look, I'm just not quite ready,' if that's the case, and come back stronger next year and the year after through to 2004.

"For Denise this World Championship doesn't necessarily mean anything. So what if she's not ready for it? Give her a year off."

Edwards said that his decision to jump at the World Indoor Championships in Lisbon five months ago had helped him to adjust after his own Olympic victory.

"It was literally a bridge, making a connection as an athlete between Sydney and what was to follow afterwards. And I think if I hadn't had that I would have struggled. For Denise, I think she's found it hard to establish that kind of rhythm after Sydney, which was such a tumultuous experience for her. And I think I might be sitting here in a similar position to Denise had I not done an indoor season." Lewis's difficulties have been counterpointed by the soaring confidence of her rival Eunice Barber, who beat her to the world title in Seville two years ago.

The former Sierra Leone athlete, who now competes for France, tops this year's world rankings with her 6,736-point performance at Götzis in May, and says she has now recovered from the nerve problem in her back which has prevented her from competing since then.

"I have two goals here,' she said. "The first is to win the gold, and the second is to score over 7,000 points." Barber was subdued, however, when her thoughts turned to the troubled situation in her homeland, where a savage civil war is still raging. Although her mother and sister have fled the country to England, other members of Barber's family remain in danger.

"They are obliged to move from one town to another," she said. "It's really bad and I wish I could do something. Kids there don't have enough to eat, there's sickness." Barber plans to return to her home country after the World Championships. But in the meantime, with the assistance of her new coach Bob Kersee, husband of former world champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, she has been planning a renewal of her rivalry with Lewis, with whom she makes no secret of getting on. "She's the Olympic champion and I'm the world champion and I have to go out and defend my title," she said.

Katherine Merry, the Olympic bronze medallist at 400 metres, pulled out before the team left for Edmonton through injury. So too did the sprinter Darren Campbell, the Olympic silver medallist at 200 metres, who would have run in both the 100 and 200 metres events.

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