STEVE Lewis is bloodied but unbowed after losing his funding from UK Athletics, despite keeping his status as the country’s number one pole vaulter.
The 27-year-old, who finished fifth at last year’s London Olympic Games, has been told he does not meet the authority’s ruthless criteria for supporting future medal hopes.
The former Holden Lane High School pupil, who now trains in Arizona, posted a new British record of 5.82m at the age of 26, and has vowed that his funding set back will not stop his progress.
“I’m pretty gutted not to be funded for the up and coming year by British Athletics,” said Lewis, from Light Oaks.
“They told me I did not fulfil the criteria to be retained as they are focused on future athletes, so at 27 I am past it!
“This season was tough for me, but I still managed to jump 5.71m and be ranked top 20 in the world.”
UK Athletics’ Lottery funding programme has also cut its help for former World Championship medalists Phillips Idowu, Jenny Meadows and Andy Turner.
It has been a tough year for Lewis, the reigning Sentinel/City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year, whose mother, Linda, died of cancer 12 months ago.
He has not repeated the mammoth heights of 2012, but he remains close to his prime and has kept his ranking as the best in the UK for the eighth successive year.
That form has left him insisting he can continue to take on the very best in the world.
He added: “I just want to thank my sponsors, my training group at the World Athletics Center in Arizona, my coach Dan Pfaff and my friends and family who support me and know I still have a long future ahead of me.
“My success in the coming years will be down to the continued hard work by myself and the love and hard work from the people around me.
“I will continue to set the bar higher because of my passion and determination to achieve my potential.”
Neil Black, the performance director of UK Athletics, insisted the decision was justified.
He said: “It’s the same process for everyone. You look at the history behind the athlete’s performance and their circumstances, and then you look into the future and what it will take for them to win medals.
“Steve’s general level of performance is just below the medal zone.”
Back on the funding rostrum is Birches Head sprinter Ashleigh Nelson.
The 22-year-old lost her support from UK Athletics last October after a 2011 season spent struggling with a misdiagnosed hamstring injury.
But she is part of the 4x100m relay team rewarded for their bronze medal at the world championships by receiving funding for 2014.