Sports Personality of the Year: Jessica Ennis-Hill is in the running to rule in Belfast
Athletics has had its dark days in 2015 as it rumbles from one crisis to the next but the events of August 22 and 23 stand as an exception — something which could be highlighted in Belfast this weekend.
Over the course of 35 hours, Jessica Ennis-Hill hurdled, jumped, threw and ran her way to what had seemed the unlikeliest of world titles in the heptathlon.
The public is well versed in her capabilities thanks to her starring role at London 2012 but, having given birth to her son Reggie just over a year before the World Championships in Beijing, there were abundant numbers of doubters, Ennis-Hill among them.
Her achievement is one that puts her among the front runners — tennis superstar Andy Murray is the bookies favourite — for tomorrow night’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award at the SSE Arena in Belfast (BBC1, 6.50pm, to vote visit bbc.co.uk/spoty).
The awards will be hosted by Gary Lineker, Clare Balding and Gabby Logan in front of a 7,500-strong audience, the first time the event has been hosted by Northern Ireland.
The event gives a sport on its knees from tales of doping and corruption the chance of some positive headlines.
And the 29-year-old is well aware of the need to “round off the year in a much brighter light”.
But Ennis-Hill dismisses the suggestion people might not vote for her because of the sport in which she’s involved.
“Well, I hope not,” she says. “It isn’t great for our sport and there has been a lot of negativity, and you can understand why people might look at athletics and think that.
“But it’s really important to highlight what the clean athletes are doing and there are so many of them, and the majority of us are training really hard and doing it the right way. It is just a real shame that everyone is tarnished with that same brush.
“But the public is knowledgeable and, if you are a true athletics fan, you have a better understanding of what’s going on. I hope it wouldn’t affect how people view the British athletes because we’re doing things properly. It would be a shame if people did think that and it deterred them from voting.”
The wider public are cynical, as is Ennis-Hill, who has been affected by doping. Russian heptathlete Tatyana Chernova is back after a doping ban and the case of whether she keeps her heptathlon world title from 2011 — when Ennis-Hill finished second — is painfully working its way through the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Chernova’s cheating has made the Briton doubtful about some rivals but says blinkers are required to focus on her goal of next year’s Olympics in Rio.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to step on to the track and be looking round thinking, ‘Does she look dodgy, does she look suspicious?’ Because that detracts from the way you perform. But as a consequence of what’s come out, most athletes are going to be a bit more aware of it.”
Ennis-Hill has talked of how her body has changed since becoming a mum and the hardship of physically rebuilding herself to get back to the top. But parenthood seems to have added another facet: she appears more confident talking about the wider issues of the sport.
Ennis-Hill is forthright about the role of new IAAF President Seb Coe. “I hope Seb is in a really strong position to make change but it’s for us to wait and see,” she says.
For this weekend at least, Ennis-Hill is hoping for a respite for athletics.
Belfast Telegraph Digital