Denise Lewis interview: England should expect golden 2018 and best ever Commonwealth Games medal haul

Ross McLean
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Denise Lewis was appointed Commonwealth Games England president in December 2015

Headline-grabbing statements about sending the biggest and best prepared squad to the Gold Coast in 2018 rightfully bring the expectation of the nation’s finest ever medal haul, according to Commonwealth Games England president Denise Lewis.

Buoyed by the award of £4m worth of National Lottery funding from Sport England, the country’s Commonwealth Games chiefs have announced their blueprint for success.

A team of around 400 will compete across 18 sports, including 38 para medal events, and have access to a 10-day preparation camp in Brisbane, a performance centre within the Commonwealth Games village and a full programme of support services.

The most recent barometer of prosperity is Glasgow in 2014 at which Team England won 58 gold medals and 174 overall, usurping their previous best of 165 at Manchester in 2002.

Irrespective of the 2018 spectacle being overseas, when asked if the Gold Coast ought to be Team England’s most successful Commonwealth Games, erstwhile heptathlete Lewis told City A.M.: “It should be, absolutely.

“You have to be realistic, ambitious and you have to push forward. We’ve seen from this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio that you can be successful away from home soil.

“The only way you do that is by making sure all the athletes’ hard work is not lost at the final hurdle when you get out to the preparation camps.

“That is what makes the difference to success on competition day. I know that. In my day you had to do a lot yourself; finding out where to go, how to prepare, understanding acclimatisation – it was done independently.

“As we’re progressing, that information is given well in advance. It allows people to focus on what they need to focus on and trust that all the leg work has been done. It’s right to want more and expect more because we’ve seen the athletes do that themselves.

“The culture of success at the moment is contagious and if you don’t rise to those challenges, both in boardrooms and preparation camps, it won’t happen in competitions.”

The boardrooms which Lewis, a former Olympic, European and Commonwealth champion, refers to were last month given an ultimatum by UK Sport and Sport England – ensure greater gender diversity, targeting at least 30 per cent, or risk funding cuts.

“I absolutely welcome that and think it is important,” said the 44-year-old.

“Diversity is important because a board that can have different dynamics and different perspectives is a healthy board. It has been something which has been really lacking in this country for many years.”

The Olympic Stadium, since relabelled the London Stadium, remains an iconic symbol of London 2012, although more recently has assumed the gloom of football violence and a crisis of identity following West Ham United’s relocation.

“I’ll always see it as the Olympic Stadium. At heart, that is what it still is for me. Athletics will continue to go back there as part of the legacy and that’s what I focus on,” added Lewis.

“It’s disappointing that the powers that be don’t seem to have managed their finances or business as well as they could have. The World Athletics Championships are there in 2017 and there’ll be a different mentality and energy -- a contrast to the negativity.”