Jessica Ennis had to fend off unexpected and barely comprehensible claims about her weight as she set about getting her bearings in the Mösle Stadion here yesterday.
Ennis spent much of the morning laughing off a report that her coach, Toni Minichiello, claimed "a high ranking person" in UK Athletics suggested the European heptathlon champion was "fat" and had "too much weight". Minichiello did not deny having made the comments, but said they were made in an interview conducted in November last year. Both he and his charge were keen to make light of the matter on the eve of Ennis's pre-Olympic confrontation with her major heptathlon rivals in the annual Hypo-Meeting here in the west of Austria over the course of today and tomorrow.
The 8st 13lb Ennis did not look as if she was carrying any kind of excess baggage as she limbered up for her clash with the other metaphorical heavyweights of the heptathlon, Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine and Tatyana Chernova of Russia. Asked by a member of the travelling British press pack whether she had been tucking into lard sandwiches for breakfast, the svelte South Yorkshirewoman replied: "I'm not even going to make a joke of it, because you'll put that in." Of all the things for her to be accused of, though, surely obesity was a bizarre stretch. "Yeah, it's definitely a funny one," Ennis acknowledged. "But it's not an issue at all. It's not something that's stressing me at the moment, so I can brush it off and ignore it.
"I came into this year expecting different things to happen, different articles, so it's not such a shock when you read things like that. But I don't want to comment on it because I don't want it to become something. As I said, it's not an issue to me."
It is not difficult to read between the lines and conclude that there must have been some kind of issue between Ennis's camp and someone in the hierarchy at UK Athletics, the domestic governing body of track and field, by whom Minichiello happens to be employed as an Olympic coach. Neither group denied the story yesterday. UK Athletics declined to pass any comment.
As for Minichiello, who has guided Ennis from an 11-year-old novice to a 26-year-old supreme all-rounder who has twice won world titles, he was reluctant to discuss the story, pointing out that he had given the interview six months ago. "It's too old to talk about," he said initially. "I think the biggest problem I've got this week is counting to 10. I'm hoping for some assistance just to make sure we've got 10 hurdles. I'm sure there will be."
At the Great City Games in Manchester last week, Ennis was denied a personal best time in the 100m hurdles when it came to light that there were only nine barriers on the track, not the regulation 10. From Hurdlegate, she has swiftly moved on to Fatgate.
When further pressed on the matter, Minichiello agreed that the assertion of Ennis being overweight was "ludicrous". "I'm an easily frustrated individual and my support of Jessica is huge, having coached her since she was such a young age," he said. "My problem is that I am defensive of that and of her, and sometimes that can come out in the wrong way. I hope people understand my motivation behind that, and that it is aimed to be for the best, even though quite often it is not perceived in that way."
While Minichiello stood patiently dealing with the questions, a figure in a yellow and blue tracksuit was slowly circling the track behind him. It was Dobrynska, the 11st 11lb Ukrainian who was a surprise Olympic champion in Beijing four years ago and who relieved Ennis of her world indoor pentathlon crown with a world record score in Istanbul in March.
It was two months to the day yesterday that her husband and coach, Dmytro Polyakov, died of cancer. "My form now is not the best," she said. "I have only done one month of training. I hope I can still make it a good competition."