Olympic heptathlon gold medallist hails Laura Muir’s success and highlights her ones to watch in this IAAF World Championships year
Denise Lewis is impressed by the current crop of British female athletics talent and has hailed the abundance of positive role models.
The 2000 Olympic heptathlon champion was in Belgrade to witness a number of strong performances by the GB team at the European Indoor Championships and athletes will look to take that form with them into the summer as they set sights on the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
“It is remarkable the dominance that our female athletes particularly have had,” says Lewis. “I think back to my time during the early 1990s, there were one or two women getting on the podium but not really that many. Now you sit back and think, ‘she’s going to deliver, she’s going to deliver and then she’s going to be up there’.”
Last weekend Laura Muir became just the second athlete after Poland’s Lidia Chojecka in 2007 to achieve a European indoor golden 1500m and 3000m double and the 23-year-old hopes to contest both the 1500m and 5000m in London in August.
“Laura Muir was just in peerless form at the weekend in Belgrade, just sensational,” Lewis says. “She looked strong, determined and almost that she could run any of the distances – 800m, 1500m, 5000m. She just looks unstoppable, so that was great to see.”
Highlighting other athletes she will be watching out for this summer, the 44-year-old adds: “Lorraine Ugen, who has been fantastic in the long jump, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Shara Proctor. Any of those girls at any time could make it on the (long jump) podium. I think it’s exciting.
“Then there’s the sprints, Dina Asher-Smith. My favourite medal of the weekend (in Belgrade) was Asha Philip. She’s been in the game a long time so to see her come through to take the gold medal. I was delighted for her.
“We’ve also got Morgan Lake and Sophie Hitchon, her Olympic bronze hammer medal was sensational and so positive for our woman throwers. The list is endless.”
Speaking ahead of International Women’s Day (March 8), Lewis also expressed the importance of having such positive female role models, with Tessa Sanderson and Sally Gunnell among those she looked up to during her own career, which also included two Commonwealth heptathlon titles, European gold, two world silver medals and an Olympic bronze.
“There have been very positive women for as long as I have been competing, just not in abundance like there is now,” she says.
International Women’s Day calls for a more inclusive and gender-equal world and although Lewis recognises that is still some way off, she believes athletics is forging ahead.
“One of the key messages from International Women’s Day from last year is how can we bridge that gap for parity?” she says. “The experts are saying it’s going to be another age before it happens but in athletics we’re already addressing it. There is already a good gender balance and there pretty much always has been for as long as my lifetime in sport.
“There’s more events for women now – we weren’t doing triple jump at one stage, no pole vault, no steeplechase, no marathon. So as a body, as a sport, it’s grown considerably and I think, even now, the fact that most of our women are the medal winners in athletics, it’s significant.”
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