LONDON 2012 heroine Jessica Ennis-Hill makes her long-awaited comeback in Manchester this afternoon, ten months after giving birth to her first child Reggie last July.
The Olympic heptathlon champion will compete in the 100m hurdles in the Great City Games but any hopes of a winning return should be tempered as she faces a formidable field.
The space left by Ennis-Hill while she has embarked on motherhood has been filled in the last couple of years by the emergence of Katarina Johnson -Thompson. The 22-year-old Liverpudlian has exploded on to the season and, in March, won the European indoor title in Prague.
There will be no head-to-head between Ennis-Hill, who last competed in July 2013, and Johnson-Thompson today, but the Sheffield star will have her work cut out in her favourite sprint hurdles event, with British record holder Tiffany Porter and world champion Brianna Rollins lining up in the race.
“I do feel a little bit like, ‘what am I doing?’ But it’s going to be a really fast race,” said Ennis-Hill.
“I’m coming back into a really good field. It’s a good environment with a nice fast track, so I feel that I’ve just got to get back into it and see where I am and have a benchmark for something I can work on throughout the season.”
Ennis-Hill knows she is stepping into the unknown and has admitted she is in a “no-man’s land” of not knowing what sort of time she might be capable of. A series of minor Achilles niggles have hampered her training a little, but she is relishing the chance to feel the buzz of competition again.
“I don’t feel as much pressure because I feel that I’ve had my amazing year of being the poster girl [at London 2012] and achieving my dreams,” she said.
“Now Kat’s here and she’s doing so well. I just want to get back into competing and give myself a really fair go of having a child and coming back and trying to be successful.
“I don’t want to look at this time and think, ‘why didn’t I give it a proper go?’ I’m happy to keep my head down and focus on what I want to achieve.”
The two British double-barrelled multi-eventers will lock heptathlon horns in Gotzis, Austria, at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, Cathy Freeman has warned Ennis-Hill that she may never enjoy a better athletics moment than her London 2012 heroics. The Australian legend had a similar experience in Sydney 2000 when she was the host nation’s “face of the Games” and stormed to a gold medal in the women’s 400m. Speaking at the Laureus Awards in Shanghai, Freeman said: “It’s hard to raise your challenge after winning an Olympic gold at home.
“If someone had said ‘this is what you’re going to do, win Olympic gold in your home country’ and if you had the chance to change that you probably wouldn’t. But if you probably looked at the long-term effects of it, you might consider it for a second.
“Without sounding like any kind of alarmist – and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade – but becoming a mother is a huge transition. I think Jess would agree there is a valid risk of losing her edge but it can be managed and she is smart and will have thought long and hard about this comeback.”
A crowd of 25,000, including young Reggie, is expected to watch today’s action which takes athletics out of the stadium and on to the streets, with the straight track, which has been graced by Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake in previous years, laid out on Deansgate in the city centre. Scotland’s 400m hurdles European champion and Commonwealth silver medallist Eilidh Child will take on Johnson-Thompson and fellow Brit Meghan Beesley in the longer 200m hurdles.
Other highlights will include the appearance of another GB hero from “Super Saturday” – Greg Rutherford in the long jump. Up-and-coming English female sprinter Jodie Williams competes against “Flying Dutchwoman” Dafne Schippers in the 150m and Britain’s Euro 60m indoor champion Richard Kilty faces 39-year-old St Kitts and Nevis legend Kim Collins in the 100m.