In 1986, 13-year-old Denise Lewis, competing for Wolverhampton and Bilston at the WAAA Championships, failed to make the final of the girls 75m hurdles, but finished sixth in the long jump.
In 1988, aged 15, she won the intermediate ladies 100m hurdles and the shot putt in the Midland Counties Joint Championships and in 1991, aged 19, she transferred to Birchfield after finishing 5th in the European junior heptathlon in Greece, scoring 5,476 points.
In 2000, aged 27, she won gold at the Sydney Olympics. She later said, “It felt like destiny, that it was now or never. It was fantastic but it makes life hard when you’ve achieved your biggest ambition by the age of 30. You think ‘What the hell do I do now?’
The 9 years she spent at Birchfield before the 2000 Olympics were filled with the hard graft of training and competing, at first alongside heptathletes Judy Simpson and Clova Court and later with Kelly Sotherton.
As well as her major international success, she supported the club in many competitions. Her dramatic entry to world class came at the 1994 Commonwealth games. Club-mate Clova withdrew after Day 1, and Denise rocketed into the lead with javelin of 53.68. She won with 6325 points. She described the final straight of the 800m as “the longest of my life…but I ran my heart out and my legs off”.
After Olympic bronze in 1996 and a further Commonwealth victory in 1998, Denise entered 2000 with what her coach described as “a relay of injuries to her body”. In Sydney she took the gold, with a score of 6,584 after a thrilling competition, which went right to the line of the 800m.
In 2001 she was awarded an OBE and Birchfield’s Leah Wright Trophy. Interviewed by the Daily Mirror in 2006 she said; “As a child, Olympians are almost immortal. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to think I’m one of them.”
In the 2004 Athens Olympics, 31-year-old Denise Lewis retired after day 1, and Kelly Sotherton took up the torch and finished in third place.