London 2012 Olympics: Jessica Ennis aims for hurdles PB in heptathlon
THIS is where Jessica Ennis should have been four years ago. Preparing to compete in an Olympic heptathlon. Ready to fight for gold.
And it will be a fight. Some people are already hanging that medal round the neck of the poster girl from Team GB, but she will have to be at her best, or at least very close, if she is to turn that collective wish into a reality.
Injury prevented her from competing in Beijing in 2008, and she knows that similar mishaps can also occur during competition. So she is taking nothing for granted, and decided some time ago to ignore any suggestions that all she needed to do to win was turn up. “It kind of washes over me now,” she says.
“I know how hard it is going to be and what it is going to take, that it won’t be easy at all.
“But I think people mean it in a nice way. They are saying ‘You winning that gold will be great’, so it is a nice kind of support. I think it is a good thing to have the crowd behind you. The crowd getting crazy. I know this sounds a bit cheesy, but it does carry you along. It helps a lot to have that support. I love it. The Trials were really good because of a big crowd.”
The Trials, in Birmingham in June, were basically a practice event for Ennis. She had guaranteed her selection long ago, and the event in the Alexander Stadium was little more than a chance to gauge her form. She won the 100m hurdles, beating specialist Tiffany Porter, and took the high jump title too on Saturday, but she did not fare so well the following day, coming only sixth in the long jump.
The initial task on day one in the Olympic Stadium will be to perform just as well in the hurdles, then hope that gives her a platform for the rest of the competition. “I really enjoy the hurdles, my strong event. I would like to get a PB,” she adds.
“It definitely helps [having a strong event first]. If you start on a high you have got that confidence and momentum which builds to the next event. It would be great to start off on a good time, but I have experienced what it’s like not to in Daegu,” she says, referring to last year’s IAAF World Championships, in which she won silver behind Tatyana Chernova of Russia. “I know how that feels. I’d sooner start with a PB.
“I don’t think about the exact points. In my head I have a rough idea.
“I don’t really think about my score until after the first day and then it is not until before the 800 that I sit down and work out how many points I need, who I need to beat ... I do know roughly what’s good and what’s not.”
Ennis’s popularity has produced a constant demand for her to take part in advertising campaigns and other media duties, and there are those who argue she has done too much of that kind of work, to the detriment of her main career. But she is confident that she has done exactly the right amount of track-and-field work, and of the right quality too.
“I do feel very good. I am very happy with the year so far, what I have done. Yes, I feel good,” she says.
“I shall definitely be nervous, like I am before every major championships. I know it is on a much bigger scale this time, but I am always nervous. We only do two heptathlons a year.”
Ennis’s previous heptathlon of 2012 was in Gotzis, Austria, in late May, and it provided her with a major morale boost. Not only did she set a new personal best, she also broke Denise Lewis’s British record for the heptathlon and got the better of Chernova.
This weekend, her main threat could come from the defending champion, Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine, who competed in Gotzis, but in the shadow of tragedy, as her husband and coach, Dmitry Polyakov, had recently died of cancer.
“It must have had a big effect on her form in Gotzis,” says Ennis. “I imagine she is going to be a lot, lot stronger. She has had more than enough time to get some good work in. Everybody is going to be in great shape. It is never easy.”
If Ennis is to overcome Dobrynska, we should know before tomorrow’s last event, the 800 metres. But the challenge from Chernova could still be alive by then, so Ennis’s bid for gold may come down to those two laps.
“I suppose it could do,” she says. “I have had to beat people by seven or eight seconds and it’s not nice. God, that makes me so nervous. I’ve put a lot of hard work into the 800 and done some really horrible sessions, so I’d tell myself I’ve put all the hard work in and if it does come down to it, I could take her down.”
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