London 2012 Olympics: Jessica Ennis wins heptathlon gold
WE have known glory at these Games, we have known riotously acclaimed gold and scenes like we could only have imagined, but this was theatre of a very different kind. Jessica Ennis was love-bombed last night.
As she moved out of the slipstream of Tatyana Chernova of Russia and Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany and kicked for home in the 800m, a stadium rose to its feet and acclaimed her in a way that was deafening and almost moving. For years, Ennis had carried the weight of a nation and held it like she would a feather.
She had gone into the 800m with a huge points advantage that translated to an eight second lead over second place, and an 11 second lead over third, but this was her stage, her night and allowing herself to rest on the cushion she had given herself was not in her mind. She won gold by winning her race and sealing the deal in the most stunning fashion.
The pivotal moment of the day – of the two days, in fact – was her long jump, an area of vulnerability in the past and the point at which she would have expected Chernova to make her move. With a handsome lead overnight, Team Ennis were not getting carried away because they knew that things had the potential to change and change dramatically if their girl didn’t get it right in the opening event of the morning session.
And in the beginning, she didn’t. It was a tentative and troubling start from Ennis, a jump of 5.95m, well below her personal best. Sure, she still had a cushion to play with, but once Chernova had posted 6.54m it was a cushion with much of the stuffing ripped out of it. Here was the moment of truth, then. The pressure point. Had Ennis not got any closer to Chernova’s leap then she would have ceded 186 points to the Russian, but she did get closer – and then got closer still.
The stadium erupted when Ennis, in her second jump, flung herself out to 6.40m, a distance that saw her punching the air with delight. And it got even better when in her last attempt she topped that mark and jumped 6.48m to hoover up 1001 points, only the specialist Chernova outscoring her. It would be an exaggeration to say that she had the gold won at that point, but only slightly. The psychology of the moment was enormous. One minute there was a chink of light for the chasing pack and the next minute they were cast back into the darkness.
Chernova never recovered. She turned up at the stadium yesterday morning with much ground to make up on Ennis but excited in the knowledge that two of her best events – and Ennis’s weakest – might well propel her into pole position. Now she had flourished one of her aces only for Ennis to play a king, an 186-point swing in the Russian’s favour becoming just a 19-point swing. It was as if Chernova lost her will at that stage. Nataliya Dobrynska, too. The Ukrainian had a bad experience in the long jump, normally a strong event for her, and that was the last we saw of her in the competition. She failed to score a solitary point in one of her favourite disciplines and packed it in thereafter; seen off by Ennis and her relentless brilliance.
The ones left behind needed a minor miracle now. Going into the javelin, Ennis was an eye-watering 258 points clear of Skujyte in second and fully 310 points ahead of Chernova in third. Short of falling in a heap and spearing herself, Ennis would have been able to hear the national anthem in her ears by now. Lest her rivals had any notions of catching her she drove in another nail in the first round of the javelin; 46.61m, just 50cms off her personal best, and then drove in another with 47.49m, a new lifetime best.
Here again we were seeing the fruits of Ennis’s preparation. Her previous travails with the javelin were, in part, to blame for her losing her world title in Daegu last year and her world indoor title in Istanbul earlier this year. She went away and worked on it. Tirelessly. She studied her run-up and changed her technique, making small modifications that amounted to big improvement. And here was that improvement writ large on the biggest stage and on her greatest day.
The gold was all but guaranteed now, not that Ennis wanted to contemplate just yet. She went away to prepare herself for the final event, the 800m. With all the hours to kill between morning session and night-time glory it would have been remarkable had she not allowed her mind to drift, to think about what it was going to be like when she crossed the line. Her life is going to change for sure. She has entered a new dimension now. In terms of her popularity with the public and her vast marketability in the eyes of corporate Britain she is the hottest of hot tickets. She didn’t just set herself up for a majestic finale to her hepathlon with the sustained excellence of her first six events, she set herself up for life.
The end, when it came, was the stuff of dreams.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east