It’s 16 years since the Sydney Olympic Games, when Team GB returned from Australia with 11 golds, 10 silvers and seven bronze medals, which back then was our most successful Games since 1920. It was the first Games that Team GB athletes had benefitted from National Lottery funding, following its introduction in 1997.
Denise Lewis, Gold, Heptathlon, September 24th
Her teachers tipped her to become Prime Minister, but it was on the track that Denise Lewis became leader on this day sixteen years ago.
An original golden girl of British athletics, Lewis overcame injuries that threatened to derail her Olympic effort throughout the Games to clinch TeamGB's first heptathlon gold medal since Mary Peters in 1972.
Leg bandaged to keep an Achilles injury at bay, Lewis hobbled over the line in third place in the heptathlon’s final event, the 800m, but not even the pain could stop a hero’s smile - she couldn’t physically move, but her joy was clear to see.
Her steely determination had shone through, and landed her the greatest prize in the sport.
“You have to think you’re superwoman to even attempt doing heptathlon,” she said afterwards.
“I knew when I crossed the line that I had won gold, I heard the announcer mention the time of the winner, so I knew I had done it.
“When I saw my name in lights, I was just beside myself, really excited, really happy and I had a real sense of joy and pride. The realisation of being an Olympic champion hit me, it’s just huge.
“There was a lot of things going through my mind when I was on the podium, but you see the flag blowing and you’re full of pride, you’re trying to hold in the tears, so there is a mix of emotions.”
But it hadn’t all been plain sailing for the then 28-year-old.
After two events, Lewis sat way off the pace in eighth in the overall rankings, before strong performances in the shot put and 200m boosted her into bronze medal position with 3852 points.
Day two was the game changer, however, as Lewis moved into first place heading into the concluding event.
With Elena Prokhorova and Natallia Sazanovich hot on her heels, Lewis knew she had to be among the leaders to maintain her advantage, but with the Russians crossing the line ahead of Lewis, it was not immediately clear if the Brit’s time of 2:16.83 was enough.
But with a total of 6584 points, the gold medal was in Lewis’ bag, and she admitted it had been a rollercoaster of a journey.
“After the high jump, I felt pretty disappointed, but I wasn’t down,” she said. “With heptathlon, you can’t afford to dwell on your emotions too long. If things go well, you have to get rid of that quickly in order to focus on your next event.
“It did enter my mind that I’d blown it after the high jump, and I did at one point think to myself ‘you’ve just thrown away the gold medal’ in one silly action, but I was prepared for it.
“After the javelin, I was pleased, but I think there was a little bit of divine intervention there because I got two good throws out and then the rain came down, so my other competitors were washed out.”
After Sydney, Lewis was appointed OBE in the New Year Honours, and competed at one more Olympic Games in Athens, where she was forced to withdraw through injury.
Since then, she has enjoyed a successful career in the media, most notably as a BBC Sport commentator at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, and in 2004, finished second on Strictly Come Dancing.
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