It was just an hour's drive for Jessica Ennis yesterday, a 57-mile hop from Sheffield to the Paula Radcliffe Track on the outskirts of Loughborough. There are still 795 days to go before the South Yorkshirewoman carries the nation's hopes into the Olympic arena down the M1 in London. The one-eyed mascots are in place and work has started on the running track and the in-field at the 2012 stadium. In the meantime, Ennis is keeping encouragingly ahead of schedule in her quest to present as a talismanic home figure for the main track and field arena.
In all three events she contested yesterday in the Loughborough International meeting, the annual curtain-raiser to the British outdoor season, the 24-year-old bettered the performances she registered en route to her heptathlon gold medal at the World Championships in Berlin's Olympiastadion in August last year. Competing for the Loughborough Students team, she won the 100m hurdles in a wind-assisted 12.86sec, soared to victory in the high jump with a clearance of 1.93m, and finished sixth in the javelin with a throw of 43.86m.
All of which augurs well, not just for the distant goal of 2012, but for the Hypo Multi-Events Meeting at Gotzis next weekend. On this form, Denise Lewis' ten-year-old British heptathlon record, 6, 831 points, could be in danger when Ennis rolls into the Austrian town where her Beijing Olympic ambitions came to grief with a triple stress fracture of the ankle two years ago.
Ennis finished just 100 points shy of the tally when she won her World Championship crown in Berlin – and Lewis, for one, reckons that it is living on borrowed time. "Jess will break the British record," the 2000 Olympic champion predicted in an interview with The Independent on Sunday a fortnight ago. "That's it. End of. It's like the sun will come up tomorrow. Gotzis is a perfect opportunity for her."
Following her triple shift yesterday, Ennis reflected: "It's really nice, what Denise has said. I'll just keep training hard and see if I can break it one day. I don't want to let myself think about it, to be honest. I don't want to get too wrapped up in trying to break records and trying too hard. The more you fixate on records, they don't necessarily come. I think if you just get on with it and do what you're capable of doing, they should come along nicely with it."
Ennis opened with an emphatic victory in the 100m hurdles yesterday, rising somewhat hesitantly from her starting blocks but proceeding to glide over the ten barriers in textbook fashion and finishing 0.43sec clear of her rivals in 12.86sec. She was assisted by a following wind, marginally above the legal limit at 2.3 metres-per-second, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless. In Berlin last summer, she clocked 12.93sec in the event.
"I'm definitely quicker than I was this time last year," Ennis said, before jumping higher than she did last year, clearing 1.93m at the third attempt in the high jump and raising the bar to 1.96m. That was 1cm above the British record she jointly holds in the event and it proved a height too far. Still, with a solid if unspectacular throw of 43.86m in the fifth round of the javelin, it added up to a satisfying afternoon for Ennis.
Not that she produced the most stunning performance of the day. That came in the senior women's 200m. Jodie Williams, the 16-year-old Hertfordshire schoolgirl who secured a sprint double at the World Youth Championships last year, won in 22.79sec, a European youth record.