Tamsyn Lewis, the surprise winner of the women's 800m (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Valencia, Spain

Believe it Tamsyn!

An hour after winning the world championship 800m gold medal Tamsyn Lewis was still walking around with a look of disbelief on her face.

Overlooked as a medal contender by virtually everyone she came to Valencia jet lagged after a forty hour journey from her home in Melbourne, Australia with modest expectations. She just hoped to get out of her first round heat.

"When I made it to the semi finals I was happy and then I was just glad to make the final. I was right there and I didn't have anything to lose and when I crossed  the line first I just didn't believe it."

"We just came off our Olympic trials and I am really happy to have made the team in the 400 and 800m. My coach said I was in great shape and to go out there and race. In the past I have come to international competitions and I haven't run that great. I wanted to get out of the heat frankly."

Lewis's post race comments were peppered with references to her coach who is actually her older brother Justin. They have worked together for the past four years. Immediately following her victory she called home but it was the middle of the night. She woke up "the coach" who was delighted for her. And then she called her parents who had been following the competition via the IAAF live stream.

"Justin is home in Australia because he has identical twin boys and my sister in law would kill me if I took him away from them," she said laughing. "My mum and dad are in tears as well."

"I am really looking forward to going home to celebrate with my family and friends who have supported me all this time. All the hard years in the sport. We had a small contingent of Aussies here and I was the only girl so I am sure they will look after me and make sure we have a good celebration tonight."

Before these world championships Lewis's curriculum vitae hardly indicated a world champion in the making. Nearing her 30th birthday she has been in the sport at the highest level since 2000. She has made several appearances at international games but surprisingly has never before qualified for an 800m final.

She holds dear the experience of winning her first Australian title and running the Sydney Olympics.

"My first national title was pretty special to me," she confirms, "and I did enjoy running in the 2002 Commonwealth Games 4 x 400m relay with Cathy Freeman. It was her last international meet really."

Among those waiting for the nation's new heroine is her boyfriend Australian cricketer Graham Manou who lives in Adelaide and plays for the South Australia provincial team. He is their wicket keeper she says proudly. And then of course she has a job to go back to.

"I do a bit of radio back home. Nothing to do with sports," she reveals with a laugh. "Just  fun stuff really. I do a bit of breakfast radio occasionally. I have a mortgage to pay so I have to work."

The $40,000 US she has earned with her performance in Valencia will certainly come in handy. But there was not one mention of it. Once the fact she has won the gold medal really sinks in she will likely find a use for it.

Along with her Australian teammates she heads home for two months of training before packing her suitcase again for the European season where she hopes to improve upon her personal best of 1:59.21 set almost eight years ago. Living out of a suitcase is part and parcel of being an Australian international athlete. Perish the thought she would leave for a European base and make it easy on herself.

"I love the country and I would never leave," she declares. "I love Melbourne. I love training there."

Spare time is a rare commodity for this Australian. Walking her prized Hungarian vizsla dog, Indie, whom she says is "a great training partner" and spending time with her family and friends preferably at a good old fashioned Aussie barbecue are real treats.

As she left the stadium with her gold medal she still had that look of disbelief on her face.

Paul Gains for the IAAF