Looking ahead to the main stretch of the indoor season, and the longer haul to the London Olympics, Toni Minichiello insisted on Friday that he and Jessica Ennis would not be getting wrapped up in what Tatyana Chernova might be doing. "No," Ennis's long-time coach said when asked about the Russian who relieved his charge of the world heptathlon title last summer, "it's about Jess getting better at being Jess."
When it came to the crunch in the first event on Ennis's schedule on day one of the Aviva UK Trials and Championships at the English Institute of Sport yesterday, Jess was better at being Jess than she had been in the high jump during her heptathlon loss to Chernova six months ago. The pride of the City of Sheffield Athletics Club had to dig deep into her competitive reserves after first-time failures at 1.85m and 1.87m and two failures at 1.89m, but she successfully negotiated the latter height at the third time of asking and then cleared 1.91m.
That was 5cm more than Ennis managed at the World Champion-ships in Daegu, when below-par performances in the high jump and 100m hurdles on the opening day put pressure on the British golden girl before her disastrous javelin effectively sealed her fate.
In the whole of 2011 Ennis cleared 1.91m just once, when beating Chernova in the Hypo-Meeting heptathlon at Gotzis in Austria in May. In doing so yesterday, the 26-year-old retained her national indoor crown and overcame the inspired challenge of a worthy rival. Emma Perkins of Worthing AC broke off from her PhD studies in the history of science at Newnham College, Cambridge to raise her indoor best from 1.81m to 1.89m.
"It helps when you have someone pushing you like that," Ennis said. "When it's a real battle it does make you raise your game, which I'm going to have to do in the world indoors.
"It was a good competition because it put me under pressure in a different way. You have to be in a different state of mind when you're having to clear heights at the third attempt."
Ennis defends her pentathlon title at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul next month, and Chernova will not be the only threat. Indeed, the new world heptathlon champion might not even pose the strongest Russian threat. A month ago, when Ennis opened her season with a shot-put win at the Northern Indoor Championships at her daily training base here, Minichiello suggested there would be "five or six protagonists" come Olympic time in August, "including someone who will come out of the woodwork, left-field."
At the Russian pentathlon championships on Tuesday Ekaterina Bolshova high-jumped 1.92m and won with a score of 4,896 points – 41 more than Chernova has ever achieved in the five-event indoor competition.
All of which is more reason for Ennis to concentrate on getting better at being herself. One not insignificant but generally overlooked reason why she was not at her best at the World Championships in Daegu last summer was because she had lost a vital block of spring training after suffering an ankle tendon injury during the high jump at the national indoor championships.
"That was horrible," she recalled. "I couldn't jump properly that day and my indoor season was over after that. So to come away and jump 1.91m today... I'm happy with that."
Not that Ennis was finished for the day. She was back in the centre of the arena later in the afternoon for the shot, looking for a 14m-plus performance. Once again she delivered, throwing 14.09m for sixth place in an event won by Eden Francis of Birchfield Harriers with 16.52m.
Ennis also intends to contest the 60m hurdles today, and possibly the long jump too. For Yamile Aldama, though, the weekend's work is already done.
At the grand old age of 39, the Cuban-born triple jumper won her first national title as a British athlete. Aldama has lived and trained in London since 2003, and switched nationality on the eve of the World Championships last summer, finishing fifth in Daegu. The Wembley resident and Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier was a clear winner yesterday with a jump of 14.09m.
Nadia Williams took the silver with 13.53m – just 3cm ahead of Yasmine Regis, whose brother, the footballer Jason Roberts, was on the mark for Reading yesterday in a 2-0 home win against Coventry.
The reporters who descended on Kingston, Jamaica, from all parts of the globe yesterday to see Usain Bolt's supposed appearance in the Camperdown Classic meeting must have felt as though they had been sent to Coventry. The world's fastest man was nowhere to be seen.
"He is abroad on business," Bolt's manager, Ricky Simms, said.
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