Champion athlete and TV commentator, Denise Lewis, speaks of the pride as a dream comes true and her home city welcomes the 2022 Commonwealth Games
Denise Lewis has experienced some special moments in her life. Winning her first competition as a young athlete at Birmingham’s famed Birchfield Harriers athletics club. Pulling on a GB vest to represent her country for the first time. Winning gold medals in the heptathlon at the Olympic Games, European Championships and Commonwealth Games. Standing on the top step of the podium as the national anthem rang out.
Then, after retiring from competition, moving to the TV commentary box and watching other British athletes follow in her footsteps. And not forgetting receiving an OBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Each treasured, never-to-be forgotten. Now, Denise is preparing for another once-in-a-lifetime occasion right here in her home city.
Denise is in no doubt that Thursday 28 July 2022 is going to be up there with the best as Birmingham becomes the focus of the world with the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, watched by a global audience of more than one billion people.
“I trained four times a week at Perry Barr throughout my childhood. I remember getting the rickety train in from Wolverhampton and now look! Hosting the Games in Brum makes me feel emotional. It’s fantastic for the region and I’m so excited.”
She added: “It’s so special for any athlete to take part in the Commonwealth Games but even more so to see the Games come to your hometown. I am so proud to be part of the celebrations and see how excited everyone is for the Games to come to Birmingham. The support and energy are amazing and I know all of the Team England athletes cannot wait to look into the crowds and see the supporters in team colours. I, for one, will be proudly cheering them on and can’t wait for the Games to start.”
We caught up with Denise as she helped open the huge Games Megastore where merchandise for all the competing nations is on show. (Safe to say, the mountain of England kit pretty much outweighs the rest!) Above the Megastore is a glass box housing the BBC studio where Denise and her TV colleagues will be covering the Games. It’s the perfect setting for any proud Brummie with the backdrop of city landmarks such as the Library and Paradise. It’s also the hub for the hundreds of media from around the world camped in Birmingham for 11 glorious days of sporting competition.
“It’s all a big deal,” said Denise. “This will really amplify the region and sports. There’ll be 200 hours of TV coverage! It’ll be 11 days of feelgood festivities, both cultural and sporting, so I hope people will really embrace it. Athletes dream for a home Games. I didn’t have the opportunity. I missed the London Olympics and Commonwealth Games in Manchester, so when gems come along like this you need to savour them.”
Born in West Bromwich to Jamaican parents, Denise grew up in Pendeford, Wolverhampton and attended Regis School in Tettenhall, which later became King’s Church of England School. The school celebrated its famous pupil by building a £1million sports hall named in her honour. She joined Birchfield Harriers, based at Alexander Stadium when she was 12 and after going on to win national titles she won heptathlon gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Denise is also a two-time Commonwealth Games champion, European champion and double World Championship silver medallist. She was the first European to win the Olympic heptathlon. Also winner of multiple sportswoman of the year awards, Denise has become a familiar face on our TV screens, commenting on British athletics and attracting a new following when she took part and got to the final of Strictly Come Dancing.
Denise said: “Athletes have demonstrated enormous resilience, and resourcefulness, finding new ways to train as all of our lives have been impacted by the Covid pandemic. They have shown unwavering grit and determination to keep pushing towards their goals. Everyone is looking forward to witnessing once more the power of the Games to change lives as we celebrate the best of the Commonwealth right here in Birmingham.”