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Ennis praised by Van Commenee for putting No 1 status on the line

As Charles van Commenee stood trackside here yesterday, running his eye over the action in the Loughborough International meeting, the head coach of UK Athletics could not help giving a respectful nod in the direction of the star attraction of the traditional curtain-raiser to the summer track season as she battled to overcome the elements.

It was not so much that Jessica Ennis had to contend with a wickedly gusting wind that threatened to blow her slender frame off course every time she approached the high-jump bar. It was more the fact the Sheffield athlete was getting ready to put her hard-earned status as the world's No 1 heptathlete on the line that met with the approval of the Dutchman whose job it is to deliver home medals in the principal Olympic sport next year.

Ennis, the only British athlete to finish last year at the top of the world rankings, has chosen to take on her global rivals at the annual Hypo Meeting at Gotzis in Austria this coming Saturday and Sunday despite being some way short of peak form and fitness following the ankle injury that cut short her indoor season and kept her out of full training for eight weeks.

"I like that attitude," Van Commenee said, after watching the crown jewel of British athletics secure victory in the high jump with a first-time clearance of 1.86 metres, then throw 44.47m for sixth place in the javelin.

"Exposing yourself in competition is always a good thing," Van Commenee added. "This may happen again in a major championship – when you don't feel 100 per cent. Dealing with problems is part of the job."

Having guided a patched-up Denise Lewis to heptathlon gold at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Van Commenee was speaking from first-hand experience. Twelve months ago Ennis high- jumped 1.93m at Loughborough in perfect conditions and headed to Gotzis with expectations on her shoulders of eclipsing Lewis's British heptathlon record of 6,831 points.

She was thwarted in her record bid by a torrential downpour on the second day but still finished a clear winner. This time Ennis and her coach, Toni Minichiello, know that her rivals, notably Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of the Ukraine and Olympic silver medallist Hyleas Fountain of the United States, will be scenting her prized scalp.

"Yeah, probably they will," Ennis said. "But I don't know how their training has gone. They could've had an amazing past few months or they could have had injuries. That wind was horrendous to jump in today but I'm happy with how I jumped. It's given me a lot of confidence. Hopefully I'm saving a big jump for next weekend and hopefully there'll be better weather."

In Sao Paulo on Saturday there was a 100m win for Britain's Dwain Chambers in 10.01 seconds, but in the high winds at Loughborough there were slow winning times for Perri Shakes-Drayton in the flat 400m (53.94sec) and Jody Williams in the 300m (38.00sec).