WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Undoubtedly the comeback queen of 2009, multi-events star Jessica Ennis has started the year where she finished off; by capitalising – and improving – on the scintillating form that took her to world heptathlon glory last summer. With the world at the feet of the diminutive, yet super-athletic poster girl of the London 2012 Olympics, Nicola Bamford caught up her in between the hectic daily graft of training and promotional duties.
Fresh from shocking herself and the world by storming to a new British record and taking the scalp of World indoor 60m hurdles Champion, Lo-Lo Jones of America in the Aviva Glasgow International last weekend, Ennis in evidently on cloud nine.
Composing herself enough to take top points for the GB squad with a personal best-breaking high-jump victory in the same event, the 24-year-old’s indoor campaign has truly started off with a very loud bang with a capital ‘B’.
In only a handful of competitions this winter since enduring a solid block of training after taking the global heptathlon crown in Berlin last August, the Toni Minichello-coached athlete has twice improved her 60m flat and hurdles bests, as well as taking her high-jump mark to within a centimetre of the national record.
Speaking after speeding to the fastest time in the world so far this year over the barriers, Ennis said: “I’m shocked, absolutely shocked. The season’s started up really well and beating Lo-Lo – that’s mad! I feel everything’s slotting in nicely for Doha.”
The aforementioned capital of Qatar represents the big target of the indoor season for Ennis, as the mid-March event provides an opportunity for the Sheffield-born and based Ennis to capture more silver-ware; albeit preferably of the gold variety to keep with the trend she has now become accustomed to.
The road to Doha appears as smooth as Ennis glides in action and the next stops en route are appearances at the Aviva International Grand Prix in Birmingham and the world indoor championship trials in Sheffield. The latter competition in particular, should witness some fireworks for the home-crowd of the Sheffield University psychology graduate.
Fans of the feisty athlete; known for her tempestuous yet uber-successful relationship with coach Minichello, know her form has a reputation for peaking perfectly for major championships and, like the entire nation, are keeping their fingers firmly crossed for a bump-free and medal-full journey to 2012.
Ennis, who lives with her boyfriend Andy and their chocolate Labrador Myla, has had a rollercoaster career with more ups than downs and has proved her steely nerve and determination in the past couple of seasons.
Back from heartbreak
Sidelined from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing with a stress fracture to her ankle, Ennis was understandably heartbroken. Stuck with a support-cast and the daunting task of regaining fitness and swapping take-off leg in the long-jump to prevent more issues, Ennis bounced back from such trauma to transform into a new, improved woman.
Nicknamed ‘Tadpole’ in the past due to her small stature, the 2006 Commonwealth heptathlon bronze-medallist and 2007 World Championship fourth-placer, grew in confidence to swim rather than sink in the global elite arena last summer in the German capital.
Going into the event as a warm favourite, following a big personal best multi-events score in the countdown and taking the British hurdles and high-jump titles at the trials, Ennis duly lived up to expectations by taking the heptathlon by the scruff of the neck from the outset.
Her first day score was the third-best in history after greats, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Carolina Kluft and Ennis relentlessly charged to a lifetime best of 6731 points to go second on the UK all-time lists behind 2000 Olympic Champion, Denise Lewis en route to a dominating victory.
It was the ultimate satisfying source of redemption for the queen of comeback and an achievement which led to her being named as the Sports Journalist Association’s Sportswoman of the Year and third-place at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
Such success and exposure also led to a few unique experiences for the smiling face of British athletics, who trains six days a week in Sheffield, Leeds and Loughborough:
“I have had so many exciting opportunities and have made the most of them – the MOBO’s (where Ennis presented an award) were brilliant and winning the Cosmo Sportswoman of the Year was great. I had a fantastic evening at the BBC awards and to win third place was amazing considering the calibre of nominees.”
Ennis used some of her winnings from Berlin to set up home, though in her own words “with training being so focused, I do not have time to think about money and how I might spend it.”
2009 saw the Adidas-sponsored athlete smash her bests over 100m, 800m, 100m-hurdles, long-jump, shot and javelin, and with her bubbly personality and model-looks, Ennis became the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics set for an even brighter 2010.
“It’s been an amazing year and to win the world champs was a great way to finish it, especially having come back from such a serious injury last year,” Ennis explained. “Afterwards, I had a great two-week holiday; totally relaxing with my boyfriend and then it was pretty much back to full training.”
Ever ambitious and tenacious, Ennis intends to achieve a double-whammy of championship glory this year in Doha and Barcelona in the continental outdoor championships this summer:
“I aim to win both the World indoors pentathlon and European outdoors heptathlon,” she explained. “So far, my competitions have gone really well and I have clocked a few indoor personal bests which is encouraging.”
Dealing with pressure
On how life has changed since Berlin on and off the track and how she copes with the 2012 pressure, she continued:
“Toni and I learnt a few things from reviewing Berlin and will put those into practice. Our relationship and my support team is still the same; we have a new set of goals to achieve so it is business as usual. I interact on a daily basis now with my management teams as there has been so much interest in me – both from fans and potential sponsors and media.”
“There is definitely more pressure now but I suppose that comes with doing well in any sport. I’m just really looking forward to it (London 2012) and want to make the most it by training hard and taking advantage of all the support. Obviously my main focus is to stay fit and healthy and perform to the best of my ability.”
At this rate of progression, more gold and adulation is surely fast on its’ way.