Denise Lewis inspired national respect with her remarkable performance in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she triumped to take heptathlon gold against the odds with a bandage wrapped around her injured leg.
Since retiring in 2005, she has remained a national favourite as an athletics pundit for the BBC. Denise reveals what she really feels about Jessica Ennis claiming her British heptathlon record, why she still gets starstruck around Sebastian Coe and why she’s thrown out the scales for good.
My most vivid memory from Sydney was standing on the Olympic podium and feeling complete, knowing that I’d realised my dream. I didn’t know my performance had an impact on so many people back home until I returned, then I was so overwhelmed by the response.
During the heptathlon you’ve got to try and concentrate on the event that you’re doing. Keeping your mind in a good place is key and literally taking one event at a time, not thinking about the overall outcome.
The Olympians who inspired me most when I was young were Sebastian Coe and Daley Thompson in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Seb [Sebastian Coe] on the London 2012 bid from way back in 2005 is more than an honour. I sometimes have to pinch myself, it’s incredible I can actually be standing and talking with one of my heroes.
I think London 2012 is going to be the Games of the women. Hopefully, this will encourage more women to choose a life in sport and to realise we are capable of getting to the top. I hope there can be more recognition of women’s sports after these games.
The athletes I’m most looking forward to watching at London 2012 are: Katherine Grainger and Jess Ennis. Katherine already has double sculling silver Olympic medals, and I'm hoping it's her turn for gold. I think Jess can follow in my footsteps and take that gold medal.
Another young heptathlete to watch out for is Katarina Thompson. I think we’re going to hear her name a lot over the next couple of years. She’s quite the opposite of Jess and I think she’s taller than me, so she’s got a fine body for a heptathlete. I hope that she’s going to take the sport in a new direction after Jess decides she’s had enough.
Jess has been capable of breaking my British record for about two years and congratulations to her. [She broke it in Gotzis in May this year.] She put together a series of fine events and thoroughly deserved it, she really did raise her game. Her second day was incredible and that’s what you get for hard work.
Athletes are always monitoring their weight. You have to be aware of how your weight affects your performance. It’s tough for us because we are women before we are sports people. It can be a sensitive area and a difficult topic to talk about.
As a non-athlete now, I don’t believe in having scales. I think being fit and healthy should come first. For young girls, having positive images of healthy sports women who have honed their bodies to perfection has got to be more positive than some of the images that go out on the front covers of magazines.
We can't all be a size 8. There are women who are absolutely stunning at size 16. You’ve got to know how to trust your body and that confidence comes from within.
The low point of my career? Being injured and not being able to perform the way you’d like to is always disappointing and the bane of being a sports person. It’s easy when you’re fit and healthy, it’s when you get into difficulties that it really challenges you mentally.
My coping strategy when injured was to listen to the experts. I was very close to my physio, Kevin Lidlow, who did all he could to get me back on track as quickly as possible. The discipline of doing what you’re told during those moments of injury is very important.
Coaches: Darrell Bunn, Charles van Commenee, Dr Ekkart Arbeit
Club: Birchfield Harriers
2000 – Sydney Olympics, heptathlon gold
1998 – Commonwealth Games, heptathlon gold
1998 – European Championships, heptathlon gold
1997 – World Championships, heptathlon silver
1996 – Atlanta Olympics, heptathlon bronze
1994 – Commonwealth Games, heptathlon gold
Denise Lewis was speaking at the opening of the new Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites which overlooks the Olympic Park. Holiday Inn is the Official Hotel Provider to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.Find out more.