Jessica Ennis: 'She always wanted to stand on top of a podium'

Jessica Ennis's gold medal prompts celebrations back home in Sheffield
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The Independent Online

For the parents of Jessica Ennis, the events of Sunday night proved a stark and joyful contrast to the aching disappointment of 12 months earlier when their daughter was forced out of the Beijing Olympics with a broken foot.

On that occasion the family faced not only the agonising wait to learn whether the young heptathlete would recover fully enough from a triple fracture to ever compete again, but also shouldering the financial loss of the cancelled trip to China.

The close-knit family sat glued to their television at their Sheffield home as Jessica powered to gold in Berlin, becoming Britain's first world champion in her chosen discipline.

"The feeling was indescribable. I had a terrible headache because I was so stressed and tense," said her mother Alison Powell, who along with Jamaican-born partner Vinnie Ennis spent most of the youngster's formative years ferrying the young star between training and competitions.

"But the moment she crossed the line I was totally ecstatic. I was just so happy. She had such a rough year last year. The most frightening thing was whether her injury was going to be career threatening. When we realised it wasn't she thought 'What do I do now to get better – how do I sort this out?' "

To reduce the pressure on their daughter the family, including 20-year-old younger sister Carmel, had opted to follow proceedings from home. "Jessica felt bad about Beijing but the main thing was that she was OK," said her mother.

Mr Ennis was equally delighted at the 23-year-old's win: "I can relax a bit now because it's been so stressful over the last few days," he said. "We were willing her and thinking it's not over until it's over. I just can't wait to see her. She always wanted to stand on the top of a podium and there she is. I'm just so proud of her."

Jessica rang home 40 minutes after victory in Berlin to share the excitement but she will not return until next week, when there is already talk of a homecoming parade in Sheffield. She has continued to live and train there despite invitations to move to the United States. The family admitted they were too overwhelmed to celebrate on Sunday, but last night after a day giving interviews they were planning a gathering.

"It has been mental – I was just not prepared for this," said Ms Powell. "Jessica is my daughter and I just kept saying to her 'Enjoy it'. She's very grounded. I think she'll cope just fine," she added. "The phone has not stopped ringing and people keep popping round. Last night I just needed to be alone but when she comes back there will be a big party."

On the opening day of the World Championships, only her second competition since her foot injury, Ennis won three of her four events – the 100m hurdles, high jump and 200m – as well as setting a personal best in the shot to justify her ranking as world number one. She comfortably held on to top spot after the first day's long jump, javelin and 800m. Her personal best of 6,731 points surpassed the World Championship achievements of both Denise Lewis and Kelly Sotherton. Coral bookmakers have cut Ennis's odds to win the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award from 10-1 to 3-1 – moving her into second-favourite spot to win, ahead of Andy Murray and Andrew Flintoff.

John Howley, club secretary at the City of Sheffield Athletic Club, of which Ennis has been a member since the age of 11, led her home city's tributes. Mr Howley said he "could not keep his eyes away from the television" as Ennis led from start to finish at the Olympic Stadium. "It's fantastic, it was a tremendous performance," he said. "Everybody will be really proud of her."