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Sports Talk Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Do motherhood and sporting excellence mix?
Denise Lewis' former coach Charles van Commenee reveals that he split with the British heptathlete because she became a mother.

Does motherhood stop female athletes from reaching the top?


Van Commenee believes parenthood will distract Lewis from focusing on her athletics career and stop her winning gold in future tournaments.

Her pregnancy, coupled with a succession of injuries, mean Lewis has not competed in a heptathlon since taking gold in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Several high-profile female athletes have juggled the demands of motherhood with a successful career, including Liz McColgan, Sonia O'Sullivan and Ingrid Kristiansen.

Can female athletes combine motherhood and top-level sporting success?


It has been well documented that motherhood brings about an increase in an athlete's performance. Ingrid Kristiansen, Liz McColgan and most recently Sonia O'Sullivan all ran arguably their best races very soon after giving birth.

Denise has won many gold medals, so maybe she is slightly less focused on athletics now that she is a mother, but the coach/athlete split may well be due to another (as yet unknown) reason.
Jamie P, UK

It looks like Charlie is using this as an excuse to get out of being held responsible for future Lewis 'failures'. This way he gets out at the top and maintains his credibility.
Malcolm Fenton,UK

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Denise's former coach should grow up
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Pippa, UK

It seems that Denise's coach is jumping to conclusions. Why couldn't he give it a go and see how things went? As many have stated, many women come back after giving birth to be even better.

I also have to question the attitude of a man who refuses to coach an athlete if he doesn't think they'll win gold. Imagine if an athlete threatened to leave a coach if they didn't win a gold medal under his training!

Sport is about more than just winning a gold medal. Denise sounds like a tremendous competitor - I wish her and her baby all the best!

The split cannot just be because Lewis has had a baby. It must also be to do with her recent record of injury, and in all probability her attitude to her athletics career.
Steve Hill,UK

Denise should have a chat with Sonia O'Sullivan. She ran away with the 3000m at Sheffield on Saturday after having her second child. Denise's former coach should grow up and accept the fact that a baby has supplanted him as the most important person in her life. She'll keep winning without him.
Pippa, UK

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Van Commenee's comments are offensive and sexist in the extreme
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Graham Small, Wales

It depends on the event. If the event involves endurance of pain, then surely giving birth would increase, not decrease, pain tolerance. It is noteworthy that some of the great marathon runs of all time have occurred soon after athletes have given birth.

Evonne Cawley managed to win Wimbledon after giving birth. But I do wonder about explosive events. Either the coach has moved on because he needs to earn a living or because he thinks Lewis can't be the best any more. I don't know the reason, but I don't think that the arguments presented hold up to scrutiny.
Rhys Jaggar, England

Van Commenee's comments are offensive and sexist in the extreme. Why should having a child affect the commitment of Denise or any other woman athlete to remain at the top of their sport? There is ample precedent to suggest that motherhood, far from detracting from a female athlete's performance, can actually enhance it.

It has even been suggested that that they come back physically and mentally stronger following pregnancy. I hope that Denise can quickly find another coach with more enlightened views!
Graham Small, Wales

I have a feeling that this reaction is more to do with his loss of control, rather than the fact that Denise Lewis was having a baby.It is a failing of many coaches that they feel that they should have 100% control over their charges' lives.

It is interesting that most of the most successful athletes (excluding drug cheats) do not have such a relationship with those who coach them.
Dave G, UK

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25 Jun 02 | Athletics
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