Lewis, Denise 1972–
Denise Lewis 1972–
As a young girl growing up in Britain, Denise Lewis had fantasies of fame and glamour in the worlds of song, dance or acting. She became a household name, but not via the arts. The youngster blossomed into a gifted and beautiful woman, one who would earn Olympic gold in perhaps its toughest event, thanks to a constant effort of training, sacrifice and intense focus.
Born August 27, 1972 in West Bromwich, England, Lewis would sing and dance for her mother in their living room, dreaming of stardom. Raised exclusively by her Jamaican-born mother, Lewis’ father left the family before she was born. By the time she was 15, track and field training was the biggest part of her life. In an article written by Ted Kessler for London’s The Observer, a vivid portrait of a determined young athlete is painted. “Now Denise is 15. It’s neither raining nor snowing in Birmingham this evening, which is good. But it is sleeting, which is bad. Worse, Denise is outside and alone in the dark, pounding round an empty running track…. She could be with her school friends down the precinct, chasing boys and learning to smoke…. But she’s here, running determinedly in circles, cold, wet, lonely.”
Always competitive as a youth, Lewis harnessed it in a way that helped foster her talent. In primary school, she’d organize lunchtime races against the fastest boy. During her high school years, Lewis was so determined and focused, she participated in any sport offered to her. “I was good at them all, “she told the Observer. “And I was a big fan of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and battles that Daley (Thompson) had in the decathalon with Jurgen Hingsen, so the heptathlon seemed the natural thing for me to do.” She pleaded with her mother to be formally trained in track. Her mother hired Darrell Bunn. Her perseverance and dedication meant a 90-minute journey on two buses and one train straight after school and she rarely got home before nine, but she loved all the discipline she attempted.
The heptathlon is one of the most grueling endurance events in women’s track and field, if not all sports in general. Over a two-day span entrants participate in seven events with escalating points awarded based on placement. The higher the place in each event, the more points awarded. The winner is the one with the most accumulated points after the last event. The day’s first events consisted of the 100-meter hurdles, the high jump, shot put and 200-meter dash. The second day featured the long jump, the javelin throw and the 800-meter run. An intensely physical regimen requiring a hard-to-come-by mix of bursting speed, tremendous upper-body strength, endurance and an extremely high tolerance of pain. For this, Lewis was becoming a prodigy.
Lewis placed fifth at the European Junior Olympics in 1991. The next year, she finished 19th in the long jump at the European Championships, but stunned everyone when she beat the event’s recordholder in the long jump one month later at the Commonwealth Games. She said that would be the point of realization for her. “When I won gold there I had a word with myself,” she explained to the Observer, ’Denise, you are actually better than you think you are. Get with it
Born August 27, 1972 in West Bromwich, England; one child.
Career: Heptathlete. Olympics, bronze medalist, 1996, gold medalist, heptathlon, 2000; World Championships, seventh place, 1995, second place, 1997; European Junior Championships, fifth place, 1991.
Awards: Awarded OBE, 2001.
girl!’ She stopped going to nightclubs and kicked her focus and desire into high gear. “I’m ambitious, I’m determined, I set high standards for myself.”
Her competitive nature would vault her up the track and field ranks. In 1995 she finished seventh at the World Championships. In 1996 she was third at the Atlanta Olympics. Later at Gotzis, Austria, she broke the UK record with 6,645 points and finished as the second-ranked heptathlete in the world. She saw more accolades and continued improvement in 1997, breaking the UK and Commonwealth records, placing second in the World Championships. A nagging ankle injury created a slow start in 1998, but she did win the European Championships. And when she finally walked away with Olympic gold at the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, Lewis had the unmistakable claim as one of the top female athletes in the world.
In an interview with Alison Kervin at www.btinternet.com, Lewis’ post-Olympic image was detailed as forever changed. And despite being known mainly for her track and field accomplishments, readers are reminded of Denise Lewis, the person, rather than the athlete. “Since she hobbled over the line to complete the 800 metres in Sydney and win heptathlon gold, her life has changed beyond measure.” “People knew who I was before, but that’s different from being famous,” Lewis told Kervin.
Her success also brought about a new world of opportunities. She was invited to model clothes and endorse various types of women’s wear for English designers. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began discussions with her in 2001 to become a new sports correspondent. Perhaps most importantly, Lewis began focusing on life after sports in 2001, specifically, those involving the pitter patter of little feet. On November 2, 2001, the BBC reported that Lewis was pregnant and may miss the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. The 2000 Olympic gold medallist and her partner, Belgian sprinter Patrick Stevens, are expecting their first child in April of 2002.
As for her future Lewis told The Observer that she has a vision of how things might pan out. “She’s in her early 50s. She’s still looking good and feeling fit. She’s a mother of three kids, living somewhere warm by the sea.” If Lewis, who applied an immense amount of time and energy into making her previous dreams come true and attain the impressive goal of an Olympic gold medal and the recognition of being one of the top female athletes in the world, puts forth the same effort, her dream of a relaxing existence will become reality.
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