Olympics: Jess Ennis has what it takes to win gold, says Denise Lewis
Denise Lewis knows what it takes to win an Olympic heptathlon, having triumphed in the Sydney Games a dozen years ago. She is sure that Jessica Ennis has what it takes to emulate her in London this summer, but warns that, in any multi-event discipline, there is always room for the unexpected to occur.
“Jess has shown what she is capable of and I think there is still more to come,” says Lewis, who will again be part of the BBC’s commentary team at the Olympics.
“Anything less than gold would be a shame and a disappointment. She’s the ultimate heptathlete – she’s physically strong and mentally very tough.
“I’m not saying Jess will have it easy. I wouldn’t put my mortgage on her winning because there’s always room for something to go wrong. But she’s given herself every opportunity.”
The 26-year-old from Sheffield has proven herself to be the best competitor in the world, but things can and do go wrong.
At last year’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea, for example, Ennis got the better of Tatyana Chernova in five of the seven events – but it was the Russian who won gold thanks to a far superior throw in the javelin.
But Lewis is confident her fellow-Englishwoman has recovered from that disappointment. “What happened in Daegu was a bit of a freak. Jess was not a bad javelin-thrower before that,” she added. “Her first day was always very strong and her second was inconsistent. But she has worked hard on becoming more consistent.”
Ennis has also been written off by those who regard her as too small at 5ft 5in. But Lewis points out that the heptathlon is not the only event in which a leading competitor has forced people to rethink presumptions about body shape.
Lewis said: “Her size is obviously not a disadvantage because she’s No 1 in the world. We focus a lot on body shape in athletics but there’s always someone who comes along and rips up the textbook. Jess is small compared to many other heptathletes but she has shown that, over the seven events, she can get the better of them.
“It’s a similar case in the 100 metres, where Usain Bolt is ‘too tall’ to be a fast sprinter. Or at least that’s what people thought until Usain came along and proved them wrong.”
With Mary Peters having won the pentathlon at the 1972 Olympics and Daley Thompson taking the decathlon in 1980 and again four years later, Britain has one of the best multi-event traditions in the world. Lewis was born just days before Peters won in Munich and, without that victory, might have been attracted to a different event.
“Mary Peters was my first introduction to the pentathlon,” she explains. “I absolutely adore her. She is such an inspirational figure.”
It is now almost 30 years since the heptathlon replaced the pentathlon for women, and it seems just a matter of time before the decathlon takes its place. But Lewis warns that such a switch is not just a simple matter of principle. “I was petrified when the talks began about decathlons for women,” she recalls. “I’ve got enough injuries already doing seven events, I thought.
“Women’s decathlons are held at some meetings and, maybe in time, their number will increase. But at mixed meetings, the order of the ten events is changed, because you couldn’t have the men’s and women’s high jump going on at the same time, for example, and that is problematic. There would be a concern about a greater risk of injury if events were ordered differently.”
• Denise Lewis was speaking at Discover Decathlon Day, a special opportunity for families across the country to come together with their local sports clubs and try a new sport. To find out more about how Decathlon can help you unlock your hidden sporting potential go to www.facebook.com/decathlonuk
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