Denise Lewis, heptathlete

Denise Lewis

"If you have a passion, you've got to apply yourself and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it," says the Olympic gold medal winner.

Raise Your Game: Who inspired you to become an athlete?

Denise Lewis: My PE teacher was my inspiration. She was full of energy, always supporting the kids and making games really fun. She noticed my talent and made me believe that I could be really good. She persuaded me to join a club and that's what I did. Her enthusiasm spilled over to me.

RYG: Were you one of the first people to be picked for teams in school?

DL: Luckily yes. I loved getting out there and competing. It gave me a great sense of freedom, being able to display what I could do. I was a sporty kid and I enjoyed acquiring new skills. I was very fortunate to have a natural talent.

I used to have my name read out in assembly when I had won something. I'd go up and get my certificates and my badges. It gave me a real sense of pride. In my school, if you were sporty, you were one of the cool kids.

RYG: Do you respond better to the carrot or the stick?


Denise Lewis OBE

27 August 1972

West Bromwich



  • Second place - Strictly Come Dancing (2004)
  • Gold - Sydney Olympic Games (2000)
  • Silver - World Championships, Seville (1999)
  • Gold - Commonwealth Games, Kuala Lumpur (1998)
  • Gold - European Championships, Budapest (1998)
  • Silver - World Championships, Athens (1997)
  • Bronze - Atlanta Olympic Games (1996)
  • Gold - Commonwealth Games, Victoria (1994)

DL: I respond more to the carrot. I believe that all motivation comes from within. You've got to really want to be successful. It's no good if you constantly need someone driving you on.

RYG: How important was your coach during your career?

DL: My coach was Charles van Commenee. He made the difference between me being a really good athlete and being the Olympic Champion. It was his grit, determination and attention to detail that turned things around for me.

RYG: What made him a great coach?

DL: Knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it.

RYG: How important is discipline if you want to be successful?

DL: It's everything. You need to apply yourself in your training sessions. That makes the difference for any athlete. It's not always what you're doing on the track that's important, it's about what you're doing off the track. Maintaining that discipline in your lifestyle is of paramount importance.

RYG: What advice would you give to young people wanting to follow in your footsteps?

DL: You've got to go for what you believe in. If you have a passion, you've got to apply yourself and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it.

RYG: What did winning an Olympic gold medal mean to you?

DL: It meant that I had triumphed over adversity. I had a really bad Achilles injury during my preparation for the Games. Knowing that I came through that and won the gold makes me extremely proud. I was so determined and mentally prepared - nothing was going to stop me.

RYG: What advice would you give to people looking to keep fit?

DL: You've got to make time. Since retiring I've realised that being fit is not everyone's priority. Lots of people have aspirations to get fit, but sometimes they just can't slot it in to their busy schedules. Don't make excuses for yourself, find the time,find something that you enjoy doing and schedule your exercise like you would any other appointment.

Not everyone enjoys running. When it starts to get cold and the nights draw in, all I want to do is go home. You can still work out there and you don't need much equipment. Use an environment where you feel comfortable and safe. You'll feel less self-conscious and you'll work harder.

RYG: What sort of healthy food do you cook at home?

DL:. One of my favourite foods is fish. It can be ready in minutes. I steam some fresh greens, salad, or a jacket potato to go with it. Keep it very simple. Make sure you're eating things that are healthy and nutritious.

RYG: Are there any foods that you steer away from?

DL: It's all relative. If you're going to have the treats, you've got to exercise. If you're limited with time and you don't want to exercise, you've got to cut down on what you're eating. Be smart about what you eat.

RYG: What was it like to compete on Strictly Come Dancing?

DL: It was fabulous. I had a great time doing Strictly. It was one of the best things I've done. It came at a low point when I wasn't feeling great about myself. I didn't realise that I would be as good as I was, so it was all a bonus.

RYG: Did you have to work hard to get to that standard?

DL: It was a lot of hard work. Some days I would think 'my goodness, I've forgotten my routine, I don't know what I'm doing.' All of a sudden you're out there in front of a live audience and millions of viewers. It's either sink or swim.

RYG: How physical was the training for Strictly?

DL: It was very physical. In order to hold a dancer's posture you need a strong core - good stomach muscles and a strong back. I think athletes have tended to do well on Strictly because they've got good postures.

RYG: Which is more important - talent or attitude?

DL: It's got to be attitude. Talent only gets you so far, and it can run out very quickly if you have a bad attitude. As a teenager I thought 'this is great, I can eat junk and still get by.'

I won the Commonwealth Games in 1994 and I thought 'Wow, I've done all this without really using my head,' but then I realised that I had to change if I wanted to get better. That's when all the discipline kicked in. I started paying attention to nutrition, my sleeping pattern and my application to the training sessions. I started making every one of those sessions count.

RYG: Why should more people take up athletics?

DL: Athletics is a great individual sport, but some of my closest friends are from athletics. There's a massive social element to it and of course there is a special team spirit that goes on within the heptathlon.

RYG: Do you find it hard to believe that you won a gold medal at the Olympics?

DL: Yes. I look back and think 'My goodness, you did all that.' It fills me with a sense of pride. It proves that no-one knows what they're capable of doing until they try.

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