Jessica Ennis will miss this summer's Beijing Olympic Games after scans yesterday revealed she has a broken right ankle.
The 22-year-old heptathlete flew home from Austria on Sunday, hoping that the injury which forced her to drop out at the halfway point of the Gotzis International would not prove serious. She found out otherwise after CT and MRI scans at the Olympic Medical Institute.
Thus one of Britain's most talented young athletes will not be competing in an event which, following the Swede Carolina Kluft's announcement that she would not defend her Olympic title, seemed to offer medal chances.
For officials at UK Athletics this is a grievous setback. They are still waiting, more in hope than expectation, to see if Paula Radcliffe can keep her Olympic aspirations alive following last month's revelation that the marathon runner has a stress fracture to her femur. There are also new worries about a knee injury reported to have been suffered by the world 400 metres silver medallist Nicola Sanders.
"This is nothing but terrible luck and is a sickening blow for Jess," said the UKA performance director, Dave Collins. "Obviously with the Olympic Games just a matter of weeks away, the timing could not have been more cruel."
Ennis said: "I'm obviously upset with the results and I'm gutted to be missing out on my first Olympics, but injury is part of life as a heptathlete. I am determined to make a full and speedy recovery from this and enjoy a long athletics career."
Ennis' British rival Kelly Sotherton, who did not compete in Gotzis after a kidney infection, said: "I'm utterly speechless. I can't even begin to imagine how Jess must be feeling now. I know that I would be devastated. This is a really cruel blow for her and I'm so sorry that she won't be out competing with me in Beijing."
On Friday afternoon, Ennis sat on the infield of the Mosle Stadium in Gotzis and spoke of her ambitions to win an Olympic medal, an ambition she hoped to underpin with a strong performance in what was to be her last main competition before the Games.
Within 24 hours, after a day in which she had competed close to, if not at the very top of her game, she was reduced to a worried figure on a treatment table with an ice pack laid across the top of her right foot.
The athlete and her coach, Toni Minichiello, insisted the withdrawal had been a precaution, the latter saying he had "no fears" that his athlete would not be able to go to the Olympics.
Ennis said she had "jarred" her foot doing a long jump in training, but that it had "settled down" after physiotherapy. She added that she thought she had aggravated the problem again during the high jump, the second event of the day in Austria, and that she had received vigorous treatment from the UKA physiotherapist Neil Black for what was then believed to be a soft tissue injury.
Ennis, who finished a close fourth behind Sotherton at last year's World Championships, cleared 1.82m and 1.85m but pulled up before a third attempt at 1.88m. She and her coach looked relieved as she produced three successive personal bests in the shot before she rounded off the day with a 200m that left her 36 points off the lead.
Minichiello was adamant yesterday that the injury must have occurred in the last 50m of the 200m, as he did not think it was possible for his athlete to have performed at the level she did in the hurdles, high jump and shot on a fractured ankle.
"I'm deeply, deeply disappointed by what the scans have shown us today," he said. "There was nothing in Jessica's training or in her PB performances that we've seen over the last few weeks to indicate that an injury of this nature was present."Reuse content