Lewis has to settle for a silver medal

WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP: Heptathlete's best not enough to beat German as there is disappointment for Hansen
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Denise Lewis last night won the first medal of the World Championships for Great Britain as she took silver in the heptathlon behind the favourite, Sabina Braun of Germany.

Lewis, who finished with a total of 6,654 points, put in a performance that had scarcely any weak links, doing justice to a talent which brought her the Olympic bronze medal in Atlanta last summer.

In the absence of the injured defending champion, Ghada Shouaa, it appeared that Lewis, who broke her Commonwealth record earlier this year, had a chance of gold. Unfortunately for her, the 32-year-old from Essen produced the performance of her life to win with 6,739 points.

Ashia Hansen, who reached yesterday's triple-jump championship amid rising British hopes of a first championship medal, was unable to rise to the occasion. Hansen, who headed the qualifying with a leap of 14.77 metres, had had preparations for Athens disrupted by a back injury which affected her ability to sprint.

Her performance on Saturday left her in some pain and she received immediate physiotherapy. But the competition last night appeared to reveal that the 24-year-old was still hampered. With her sixth and final attempt on the night, she stood fifth after a competition in which several of her rivals had surpassed themselves.

In a vain attempt to raise herself, she encouraged the crowd to clap. But the effort was in vain. Her distance was 14.49m - her best on the night, but not enough to lift her in the placings.

As she shook hands with her opponents, a wry smile came to her face. She had simply not been able to raise her level of performance like several of those around her.

Hansen had been hoping for a progression, having finished fourth at last summer's Olympic Games and then taken the silver medal at the World Indoor Championships in March. The hop and the step were promising, but the jump proved too much. Hansen's coach, Aston Moore, had said beforehand that Hansen's confidence - something which has let her down in more than one major championship - was now strong. "She feels like she belongs with the top jumpers now," he said.

She did not look out of place yesterday but was clearly operating well below peak efficiency. As she had feared beforehand, Romania's Rodica Matescu, whom she had referred to as "the dark horse", had come through strongly as a gold medal challenger, adding two centimetres to her world best of the year when she managed 15.16m on her first attempt. It looked enough for the gold medal, but Sarka Kasparkova surpassed with her fifth jump, reaching out to 15.20.

There was further disappointment for Britain on the night as Steve Smith, the Olympic bronze medallist failed to qualify for the high jump final. Smith, who has been troubled by an Achilles tendon injury for the last three weeks, was only able to manage 2.26m.

However, his colleague Dalton Grant, who joined the British squad late because of suspected food poisoning did get through, making the official qualifying height of 2.28, his season's best.

In the 400m hurdles final, Stephane Diagana of France defeated the American favourite Bryan Bronson with a time of 47.70sec.

In the women's 400m, Cathy Freeman of Australia took the gold in 49.77sec and then, just as she had done in winning the Commonwealth Games three years ago, took the flags representing both Australia and the Australian Aborigines on her lap of honour.

Steve Backley sets out today in pursuit of the global gold which he wants - which, according to him, he needs to round off his achievements in the javelin.

As usual, one of the main problems for Britain's Olympic silver medallist is the Czech Republic's gold medallist Jan Zelezny, who was the leading qualifier on Sunday night.

Zelezny's effort - 83.66m - was far from awe inspiring, but he gained a slight psychological advantage in qualifying outright with one throw while Backley had to wait for confirmation that his 81.40m was enough.

Mick Hill, who qualified with 82.24, will also be hoping to add a World Championship medal to the bronze he won in 1993.

The lurking danger in the field is the home thrower, Kostas Gatsiouidis, who is likely to attract a large, partisan crowd - something which will please the International Amateur Athletic Federation president, Primo Nebiolo, who has expressed his disapproval of the relatively sparse numbers who witnessed Sunday night's 100m finals.