It was not a day for "pussies", as Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics interpreted the public perception of Britain's fragile track and field community this week. Instead it was the kind of day when James Dolphin, the Australian sprinter entered for the 200m, would not have felt like a marine mammal out of water. It was raining cats and dogs here at Loughbrough University yesterday as Jessica Ennis, the one British athlete standing at the top of the world rankings, set about her final competition before the rapidly looming world championships.
A fortnight on Saturday the pride of Sheffield will be in the cauldron of the Olympiastadion embarking on her quest for a heptathlon medal on the opening day of competition in Berlin. Yesterday the woman from the Steel City was showing her mettle in the rain in front of a handful of sheltering spectators at the Paula Radcliffe Track. She was also showing the kind of form that might win her a gleaming chunk of precious metal in the German capital.
Having chosen to bypass the razzamatazz of the Usain Bolt Show, otherwise known as the Aviva London Grand Prix, at a sold-out Crystal Palace last weekend, Ennis opted for the Leap (Loughborough European Athletics Permit) meeting as her final test before departing. It would not quite be fair to say that her form took a giant leap, given that she has been at the top of the world rankings since May, but the 23-year-old took a couple of major steps in a direction that points towards the medal rostrum in Berlin. Ennis started the shot put with a lifetime best of 13.72m but improved to 13.78m in the third round and 13.96m in the fifth – all this throwing from a puddled circle that would have deterred any kind of pussyfooting athlete. "I wasn't actually slipping out there, but I was a bit worried that I was going to," she said. "My technique wasn't as good as it could have been but to get a personal best... I'm made up with that."
There was even better to come. In the long jump Ennis leapt to a second round effort of 6.43m – a 3cm improvement on her previous personal best and 27cm farther than her previous best this summer. Both were significant advances given the fact that the psychology graduate has been obliged to reconstruct her long-jumping technique this year, taking off on her left foot instead of her right. Last year she missed the Olympic Games in Beijing after fracturing her right ankle.
With a nod in the direction of her watching coach, Toni Minichiello, Ennis said: "We've had to do so much work, trying to rebuild my long jump – changing my take off. I'm so happy to get a personal best."