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September 25, 2000
Denise Lewis breaks the pain barrierMitch Phillips
Denise Lewis put herself through the pain barrier yet again on Sunday and this time she won the Olympic heptathlon gold medal.
Lewis, held together by heavy strapping on the outside and a fierce will on the inside, dragged her battered body round the final 800 metres just fast enough to edge out Russian Yelena Prokhorova and win Britain's first athletics gold since Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie in 1992.
Lewis was not alone in suffering injury. World champion Eunice Barber and defending Olympic champion Ghada Shouaa were among six athletes to fall by the wayside during the two days of gruelling competition.
But despite adding a mystery foot injury during the long jump to her myriad other troubles, Lewis, bronze medallist four years ago and second in the world championships, managed to go the distance.
"It's been very difficult, I've had a lot of injuries," she said.
"We all saw some of the favourites drop out and I was just very thankful to be going in to the 800 metres able to run with both legs.
"I always said it was the survival of the fittest and that was exactly what it was today."
Lewis picked up the foot injury during the long jump and said it was serious enough for her to consider pulling out.
"My foot just locked, the physios were baffled and it was a bit of a scare," she said.
"There was a fear in the back of my mind that I'd have to pull out but everyone around me reassured me and then we were prepared to do everything it takes to get me out there to throw the javelin, even if I could only manage one throw."
Lewis not only managed it but produced the second-longest throw of the competition, 50.19 metres, to gain vital breathing space for the decisive 800 metres, her weak event.
Needing to finish within eight seconds of Prokhorova, the fastest runner in the field, Lewis looked comfortable until the last 100 metres when she tied up horribly with the Russian quickly opening a worrying gap.
Prokhorova crossed the line in 2:10.32 minutes with Lewis arriving six-and-a-half seconds later - just one-and-a-half seconds within the gold medal limit.
"Mentally I was prepared for what I had to do in the 800," she said. "You get to be able to judge time and distance and I knew the gap wasn't too dangerous. But it was just pure fatigue at the end."
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