Lewis claims a silver lining for Britain

WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS: Heptathlete celebrates as her second place compensates for earlier disappointments
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Denise Lewis yesterday provided Britain with their first medal of the World Championships as she took silver in the heptathlon behind the German favourite, Sabine Braun.

After the traumatic early departure of one golden prospect, Kelly Holmes, and the failure of Ashia Hansen to get into the triple jump medal placings earlier in the evening, the sight of Lewis with a broad grin and a Union Jack was a cheering one for British supporters. It seemed she was also providing Britain with its first smile.

The absence through injury of the defending champion, Ghada Shouaa of Syria, opened up a heady possibility for the 24-year-old from West Bromwich, who came into this competition second behind Braun in the world standings.

Having survived a perilous moment in the first of her seven events, when she clattered through the seventh barrier of her 100m hurdles, she performed with a consistency she has never managed before at a major championship to supplement the bronze she took at last year's Olympics and her gold in the Commonwealth Games.

"I was lucky to stay on my feet in the hurdles," she said. "That could have been the whole heptathlon ruined for me. But I was very pleased with my performance. It was very professional, and I didn't come away empty- handed."

She might have come away victorious had not the 32-year-old from Essen - also sensing a moment of opportunity after years of trailing either Shouaa or the former world champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee - not risen superbly to the challenge.

Braun, who finished with 6,739 points, to Lewis's 6,654, dedicated her victory to her sister, who died of cancer in March. "She is always in my thoughts," she said.

After the first day of events, traditionally the weaker one for Lewis, Braun was 121 points ahead of the Briton, who stood fourth. If Lewis was to win, she had to do something special in the first two of her final three events - the long jump, and the javelin - as she knew that Braun was likely to at least match her in the final 800 metres.

Lewis performed acceptably in the jump, recording 6.47m. It was 20cm below her best; then again, it was 15cm more than her deeply disappointing effort at last year's Olympics.

However, Braun managed 6.42, and then threw 51.48 in the javelin; Lewis's 52.70 was the second furthest, but she knew she had failed to make a sufficiently dramatic impact.

"I have to be realistic," Lewis said. "The gold had gone after the javelin." But there was a job still to be done in the sapping two-lap race in which, to use Lewis's phrase, athletes have to "bring their heart and soul".

Before going out, Lewis and her coach, Darryl Bunn, discussed the options. "I knew I had to be steady because the Lithuanian and the Pole were going to battle it out. We went through every scenario, the worst and the best," she said.

If the best involved Braun going lame, it didn't come to pass. The German passed Lewis 15 metres from the line before the whole field became involved in an exhibition of mutual concern and respect which multi-events seem to foster.

"I'm delighted with the silver," Lewis said. "You have got to live for the moment because you never know when these times might come along again.

"These two days have been really important because I have shown mental toughness. I have actually enjoyed being competitive here. I was so tight in Atlanta I didn't enjoy it at all."

The only thing which troubled her here was the schedule, which obliged her to get up at 4.30 in the morning to compete in the long jump at 8am. "It has been a long couple of days," she said. "I got three to four hours sleep last night - it just was very difficult."

Ask any marketing person which competitor they would prefer to promote as a world champion, and there would not be too much time spent on internal debate.

Braun has scrubbed, healthy looks and is not given to flamboyant gestures. Lewis has a flashing-eyed beauty about her, and a natural exuberance.

Besides, she has caused a stir outside the world of athletics this week. Pictures of her clad in little more than a body-painted British team kit have found their inevitable way into the tabloids from a sports magazine - where else would she expect them to end up?

After embracing Braun, who was so exhausted she could only manage about 20 metres of a lap of honour, Lewis draped the Union Jack winningly across her hips for the cameramen. She is a star, even if she couldn't reach out to the highest heights this time.

"If she'd not hit that hurdle she might have been celebrating gold," said Mary Peters, president of the British Athletic Federation and winner of the Olympic pentathlon in 1972. "She's a wonderful girl, a talented athlete, and her time is coming."

Americans sprint into obscurity,

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