Having triumphed in an Olympic heptathlon in Sydney 2000, Denise Lewis is no stranger to the challenge that will face Team GB medal-seekers in the coming games. Lewis is sure that Jessica Ennis has what it takes to repeat her success, but warns that, in any multi-event discipline, there is always the potential for an element of the unexpected.
“Jess has shown what she is capable of and I think there is still more to come,” says Lewis, who will commentate again for the BBC this year 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.”
Ennis, the Sheffield-born 26-year-old heptathlete has proven herself to be the best competitor in the world, but things can and do go wrong.
The 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, saw Ennis get the better of Tatyana Chernova in five of the seven events – but it was the Russian who won the top medal thanks to an impressive throw in the javelin.
Lewis feels confident her fellow-Englishwoman has overcome last year’s 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 faced scepticism from those who think her too small at 5ft 5in. However, Lewis points out that the heptathlon is not the only event in which a leading competitor has caused a rethink in presumptions about athletes’ 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.”
It is now almost 30 years since the heptathlon took over from the pentathlon for women, and it can’t be long before the decathlon replaces it. 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.”
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016