Interview: Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis

Legendary heptathlete Denise Lewis talks to Sports Mole about a great summer for British athletics, her high hopes for the future and the chance of a return to the track.

With England falling at the first hurdle in the World Cup and Andy Murray slumping to a quarter-final exit in the defence of his Wimbledon crown, this summer of sport did not start too well for the home nations.

However, that all changed in Glasgow as England topped the medal table with a record haul at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, before Britain combined to again break their record and lead the way in the European Athletics Championships in Zurich.

The likes of Mo Farah, Jo Pavey and Adam Gemili captured the nation's hearts with their success on the track, and former Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis followed all of the action with a keen eye.

The legendary heptathlete, who also won two Commonwealth golds and a European Championships gold in a distinguished career, spoke to Sports Mole about Britain's success, how excited she is about the future of athletics in the country and the possibility of a return to the sport herself.

Denise Lewis pictured in 2011© Getty Images

It has been a great summer of sport for British athletics. What have you made of it?

"It's been an excellent year so far. Where do you start? Jo Pavey was outstanding at both championships really. I've known Jo for a long time so I was delighted to see her rewarded with a gold medal after so many years of being a stalwart of British athletics.

"[She's a] great ambassador for the sport, so it's great to see her [succeed]. And our youngsters coming through in sprinting in particular - our women's sprinters and obviously Adam Gemili doing brilliantly.

"Unfortunately Katarina Johnson-Thompson getting an injury at the wrong time just meant that she couldn't join the gold rush, but I'm sure her time will come - she looks fantastic. At the World Junior Championships, Morgan Lake winning the high jump and the heptathlon there, so the future looks bright."

There does seem to be a good group of young sprinters coming through right now, with Adam Gemili and Jodie Williams at the forefront of that. Is it too early to say that a golden generation could be on the horizon?

"I think the results were fantastic at the Commonwealth Games and at the Europeans, we just need to see how they translate with another winter behind them and how they take that on to Beijing next year for the World Championships. But here and now, I think it does bode well for the future.

"The sprints - Jodie Williams, Bianca Williams, Asha Philip - they really excite me. They look so within themselves running sub 23s, 22.5s, 22.4s. They can only get better. They're still young, they're still developing, so it's very encouraging."

Asha Philip, Bianca Williams, Jodie Williams, Ashleigh Nelson of England celebrate winning bronze in the Women's 4 x 100m Relay Final at Hampden Park during day ten of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games on August 2, 2014© Getty Images

Where would you say Britain are now in comparison to the traditional heavyweights on the track?

"The thing is, it's not easy to compare with other countries – everything is on the day. Yes, we know about the force that is Jamaica – they've dominated men's and women's sprint in recent times. The USA clearly have great tradition and great strength in depth, but anything can happen on any given day.

"Once our girls and boys are in finals, people might make mistakes and they could seize medals that perhaps other people wouldn't have had them down for. I think they just have to believe that – that's what they have to do.

"Don't fear the opposition or fear that they can't make the finals with their times because they're capable. Running 22.4s can guarantee you finals in any championship at any time in the future."

You mentioned Jo Pavey winning gold in the 10,000m at the Europeans having also won bronze in the 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games. Can you sum up how big an achievement that is for a 40-year-old who gave birth to her second child just 10 months ago?

"I think it's all about perseverance. Jo's shown great perseverance, she's got a great support system with her husband Gavin, her family, and that just allows you to put in the hours that you need to do to get those sort of times and distances under your belt.

"I think Jo's medal was probably one of the most popular medals, and it really did inspire the team to go on and achieve better things. I'm just delighted for her. I've come through the English schools and junior ranks with Jo, and she's still there putting in the hours. It's just great to see, it really is."

Jo Pavey wins the women's 10,000m gold at the European Championships in Zurich on August 12, 2014© Getty Images

It's been a summer full of memorable moments, but would you say Pavey's gold was your highlight?

"Absolutely. We roared her home. I think everybody who has been involved in athletics for many years would have just been screaming at their television or screaming in the stadium, just roaring her on.

"She showed great courage, and what I say to everyone is 'seize the moment, make sure that you come into the championships ready and if you see an opportunity then go for it'. That's what Jo has done.

"You just don't know when the cut-off time is for when people say you should be retiring or you should be thinking of other things, but she's just proven that if you're healthy, committed and you've got great support then everything is possible."

Does watching her success make you miss being out there at all?

"No! You won't be seeing me in Lycra! It has inspired me to get down to the gym a bit more, but apart from that my time on the track is over. It's just very warming to know that Jo is doing it for us 40-somethings.

"It's inspiring people that don't normally watch athletics. I've had lots of messages to pass on my congratulations to Jo from comedians, people outside of the sport that just wanted to say 'well done Jo.'"

You obviously have strong links with the heptathlon - Jessica Taylor surprised everyone, including herself, with a bronze in that event at the Commonwealth Games. What did you make of her performance?

"She just seized the opportunity. No-one would have predicted that Jessica could win a medal at the Commonwealths, but she competed really well and that's the essence of it. You can't look at times, you can't look at points or distances, you've got to be in the mix on the day and be ready to react when the opportunity arises.

"She'll savour that medal and obviously it will make her stronger, more committed and more focused during the winter because the next step for her is getting to the World Championships, getting the qualifying mark to go to the World Championships and enjoying that experience as well."

Jessica Taylor on the podium after winning bronze for England in the women's heptathlon on July 30, 2014© Getty Images

And considering Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson weren't involved this summer, British heptathlon looks to be in very good shape...

"And Morgan Lake. That event is red hot at the moment. Morgan Lake is 17, World Junior champion and also vying to get into the championships, to make that transition from juniors to seniors. So there is a lot to contend with, a lot of new names for people to get used to, but I think British athletics at the moment is in a good place."

Finally, we still have a few months until the Sports Personality of the Year is decided. It is an accolade you finished as runner-up for twice - do you see any of these track athletes as potential winners this year?

"I wouldn't like to call it at all. Mo deserves to get into the top three. He's been overlooked the last few years even after winning an Olympic gold medal and two World Championship gold medals, so it will be nice to see him in the top three this year.

"Rory McIlroy has got to be in there again. I just don't know. Everyone thinks it's going to be a light year, but someone will always pull something out of the bag. I mean, there is still the Ryder Cup to come. It's still very early, but it would be nice to see Jo nominated. I think she made the leap into a lot of people's hearts up and down the country."

Denise Lewis was at Activate Sport in Berkhamsted, sponsored by national breakdown cover provider Green Flag. For more information, visit http://blog.greenflag.com/2014/activate-sport-launch/​​.​​

Asha Philip, Ashleigh Nelson, Anyika Onuora and Desiree Henry pose with a Union Jack after winning gold in the Women's 4x100 metres relay final during day six of the 22nd European Athletics Championships at Stadium Letzigrund on August 17, 2014
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