Jessica Ennis is the poster girl of the London Olympics, giving a series of interviews and taking part in numerous photo shoots, but now she wants her reward — a gold medal.
The 26-year-old Briton — a former outdoor world and European heptathlon champion — has assumed the mantle of the golden girl of British athletics from Denise Lewis, whom she hopes to emulate in taking Olympic heptathlon gold like the latter did in Sydney in 2000.
The pressure, though, will be even greater on Ennis as not only is she expected to deliver gold to the home audience, but also having missed out on the Beijing Games because of injury, this will be her first Games.
However, with a degree in psychology, the bubbly Ennis — daughter of a Jamaican father who is a decorator and an English mother who is a social worker — has shown herself to be impervious to the pressure.
She took silver in the world indoor championships earlier this year in the pentathlon, but only saw her crown taken away by a world record performance from Ukrainian Olympic champion Natallia Dobrynska.
Then, in May, came a landmark moment. For Ennis, who first made a splash when she took bronze in the 2006 Commonwealth Games heptathlon, consigned Lewis’ British record in the event to the dust bin as she recorded a total of 6,906 points in Gotzis, Austria.
Even better for her was that she had her two main rivals for Olympic gold behind her, Russia’s Tatyana Chernova, who took Ennis’ heptathlon outdoor world title in Daegu, South Korea, last year, was second, while Dobrynska was way off the pace in ninth.
It showed, if anything, that Ennis — whose small frame earned her the nickname “Tadpole” early in her career — had firmly put behind her two years of almost constant injury.
“This gives me the self-belief going ahead,” Ennis said after breaking the 12-year-old record. “I have done the big block of my training and now I am going to train sensibly, just freshening up and sharpening up.”
Ennis realizes that her two main rivals were not at their peak in Gotzis.
“They’ll come back stronger in London, but so will I, and I’ll have a big crowd with me,” Ennis said.
However, Ennis’ belief that the crowd will be a positive factor for her in London is not a view shared by Chernova.
“If people just look at one girl, it will be very hard for her [Ennis] to compete. I don’t know what is in her mind, but everyone in the stadium will want her to get a result, and there will be great attention on her,” she said.
However, it is not just her rivals that Ennis has had to cope with in terms of the psychological warfare as they approach the Games, but also apparently those within as there have been backstage noises about her being overweight.
It has not, understandably, gone down well with her or her coach.
Toni Minichiello claimed the slurs were part of increased intrusion into Ennis’ preparation for the Olympics from “people in fairly high positions, who should know better.”
“I get e-mails, phone calls, text messages and voice mails giving me advice on what I should be doing with Jessica Ennis that’s going to make a difference. It’s a lot of background noise that you can get easily distracted by,” Minichiello said.
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