Denise Lewis competing in Sheffield (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Sheffield, UK

Lewis below par, while Holmes, Pavey and Fenn look convincing winners

British heptathlete Denise Lewis began the long slow road to Athens, where she will defend her Olympic title this summer, with a couple of low key performances on the second and final dayNorwich Union World Indoor Trials and AAA championships in Sheffield today.

Lewis took a last minute decision to compete in the Shot Put and 60m Hurdles, her first competitive outings since she finished fifth at the World Championships in Paris last August, and confirmed that she still has a lot of work to do if she is to be a serious challenger for Olympic medals this summer. She threw a modest 14.59m in the Shot – an indoor pb, nevertheless, and good enough for silver behind the Swede Helena Engman’s 15.42m. Then followed that half an hour later with a disappointing 8.48 in the heats of the Hurdles, quick enough for third but not for a place in the final.

Ankle injury and starting from scratch

“I only decided to compete at the very, very last minute,” she said afterwards. “I knew I wasn’t really ready and the mindset wasn’t there. But I like competing so I wanted to see what I could do. I’ve actually regained a lot of the strength I lost over the last couple of years, but I’m not throwing with speed yet.”

She wasn’t hurdling with speed either, and suffered from a terrible start. In fact, Lewis’s preparations for the 2004 season have been hindered by an injury she picked up just before new year when she twisted an ankle while training in Belgium. “I was lying on the floor of this forest thinking no-one is going to find me,” she recalled. “At that moment I did think it was a bit more serious. I was in the middle of nowhere and could hear the distant sound of a dog barking. No-one came to my aid so I had a long hop back to the car.”

Lewis, who has recently returned to train with Charles van Commenee in Birmingham, the coach who guided her to Olympic gold in Sydney four years ago, admitted that, although the ankle is not as bad as she first feared, she is still well behind schedule. She described how van Commenee has had to “take everything apart and start again” with her fitness and technique. “It’s been like starting from scratch,” she said.

Next aim is Gotzis

Not surprisingly, the World Indoors are not part of her plans this year. “It’s all about Athens,” she said. “Everything else is just tasters really.” The first bite will come in Gotzis at the end of May when she is likely to be tested against Sweden’s world champion Carolina Kluft and her great French rival Eunice Barber. That will be the first sign of how well she has progressed, although Lewis was keen to play down any expectations. “I am not super woman, even though some people think I am,” she said.

Holmes' plans on track

By contrast, the preparations of one of Britain’s other female Olympic medallists, Kelly Holmes, appear to be well on track. The Olympic 800m bronze medallist won the four-lap event in Sheffield in a championships record time of 2:01.40, well ahead of local girl Rebecca Lyne, the European under 23 champion. Holmes, who won by more than five seconds, ran from the front in a solo test of speed.

“I’ve been concentrating on the 1500m so these races are all about speed work,” she said. Holmes returns to Spain on Monday to train with world and Olympic champion Maria Mutola, and plans to race in Stockholm and Birmingham before she bids for the World Indoor 1500m title in Budapest (5-7 March 2004).

Pavey and Fenn also in fine form

The women’s middle distance races produced two other fine performances from two of Britain’s Jos – Joanne Pavey, who won the 3000m in a championships record 8:43.23, her first ever race indoors; and Jo Fenn, who took the 1500m in an encouraging 4:12.67, some six seconds quicker than her first outing last year when she went on to finish fifth over 800m at the world Indoor championships.

“I don’t think I am that far off where I want to be,” said Fenn, whose 2003 outdoor season was ruined by a stress fracture sustained only two weeks after her gallant performance in Birmingham. Fenn revealed that she has recently given up 16 years of vegetarianism in a bid to avoid further injuries. “It’s hard to change, but if eating meat brings me an Olympic medal it will be worth it,” she said.

A close men's 200m

Other notable performances came in the women’s 400m where Catherine Murphy ran 52.54, equal fifth fastest in the world this year; and in the women’s high jump where Bobby Aloysius broke India’s national indoor record when she leapt 1.83m. That was good enough for second behind Britain’s outdoor record holder Susan Jones who jumped a season’s best 1.87m.

A close men’s 200m final went to Paul Brizzel in 20.98, only four hundredths ahead of Tim Abeyie, whose 21.02 puts him in the frame for a place in Britain’s World Championships team. Brizzel benefited from the absence of Christian Malcolm, who did not start because of a groin strain, and the world’s fastest man of 2004, Allyn Condon, who pulled up in the semi-final with a hamstring twinge.

There was disappointment too for former World Indoor champion Jamie Baulch, whose bid to regain his international 400m standing stumbled at the first hurdle. Baulch could only finish third in 47.70. Ireland’s Robert Daly won in 46.68.

National outdoor record holder Chris Tomlinson took the men’s Long Jump with 7.80m, while Ashley Swain had a breakthrough in the men’s Pole Vault, setting a series of personal bests on the way to 5.50m. There was another leap forward in the women’s 60m hurdles final where Sarah Claxton broke the championships record with a personal best of 8.11.

That would certainly have been too hot for Denise Lewis, but by then, of course, Lewis had left the building.

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