Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Jessica Ennis has all the attention, and now she must deliver

Jessica Ennis

For Jessica Ennis, the time is nigh. Come 10.05am today, Olympic gold will be on the line for the Great British hope of track and field as she sets out in event one of the heptathlon, the 100m hurdles.

The Sheffield woman starts as the favourite and the world No 1 but, in a closely-matched field, she knows it could all come down to a dramatic denouement in the final event at around 8.35pm tomorrow, the 800m.

Everything points towards a two-lap scrap for the gold between the diminutive Briton and Tatyana Chernova, the towering Russian who relieved her of the World Championship title in Daegu last summer.

“God, that makes me so nervous,” Ennis says, contemplating the scenario in the calm before the storm. “I have put a lot of hard work into the 800m and done some really horrible sessions, so I would tell myself I have put all the hard work in — and if it does come down to it, I couldn’t take her down.”

The last three words are delivered with the mock intonation of a female assassin in a Hollywood action-thriller. As soon as they pass her lips, Ennis realises they might not be taken in jest. “Don't quote me,” she says, laughing, and in vain.

The message is already on half-a-dozen tape recorders. “Damn you,” she says, only half-mockingly this time. “It's going to be everywhere.”

It is good to see Ennis on such good form. For three years now, ever since she won the World Championship title in Berlin in August 2009, the pressure of home Olympic expectation has been building.

Every day and everywhere that Ennis has ventured, the Great British public have stopped her and implored: “Win us that gold medal.” She features on the front cover of the latest edition of Time magazine. Back home, in Sheffield city centre, there is an 80ft poster of the 5ft 5in pride of the Steel City.

There has been no escape for Ennis — even after a hard day's training, when she has been attempting to relax in front of the telly with her fiance, Andy Hill.

“When that BP advert comes on, I think, ‘Oh no, not this again'. And Andy pauses it and we have a laugh about it.”

And everywhere, the vast majority of people have been quick to hang the gold medal around the neck of the 26-year-old psychology graduate. Only those who follow track and field appear to appreciate that it is a far from foregone conclusion — that Chernova and the defending Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine are serious threats to Ennis.

“I know 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.

“The crowd getting crazy — I know this sounds a bit cheesy — but it does carry you along.”

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