Ennis takes on captaincy and world's best

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Another day; another title for Jessica Ennis. Two weeks ago the world heptathlon champion was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Sheffield.

"So do we call you Doctor now?" the South Yorkshirewoman was asked yesterday when she arrived in Glasgow to join the Great Britain team for the Aviva International, which takes place at the Kelvin Hall today. "Yes please," she replied. "My mum did write me a birthday card saying 'Dr Ennis' on it."

Two days on from her 24th birthday, the good doctor also assumes the mantle of Captain Ennis for the traditional curtain-raiser to the indoor international season this afternoon. "It feels really weird," she said of her appointment as Great Britain team captain for a contest that also involves the US, Germany, Sweden and a Commonwealth Select squad. "It was my birthday yesterday and I still feel like I'm 18 but I'm 24 and I'm Great Britain team captain. I still look up to other people, so it's strange to think of other people regarding me in that way. But it's nice too. It's a real honour to be captain."

As a role model and inspiration, Ennis was a natural choice for team-leader duties. This time last year she was grafting away on the training track, picking up the pieces after the triple ankle fracture that shattered her Olympic ambitions in 2008. Twelve months on, under the guidance of her coach of 12 years, Toni Minichiello, Ennis has hit the heights of World Championship success and remains on an upward curve. In two indoor competitions already this year, the Loughborough University Open meeting and the North of England championships, she has recorded six personal bests.

The new, improved Ennis is a significantly faster model. At those Northern Championships in her home city a fortnight ago, the Sheffielder improved her lifetime best 60-metre sprint time from 7.47sec to 7.36sec – no mean advancement over such a short distance. It is just as well, because Dr Ennis will need all the speed in her locker when she gets to her mark for the 60m hurdles today.

She might have been a class apart in the heptathlon's test of all-round athletic ability at the World Championships in Berlin last August, claiming the title by an emphatic 258 points, but in the specialised world of high hurdling the new British captain faces one of the best, Lolo Jones, the reigning world indoor champion at the event. "I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to race against some of the top hurdlers, like Lolo," Ennis said. "Hopefully, they can pull me along and help me squeeze out a personal best."

Ennis also competes against top-notch opposition as a guest in the high jump – notably Chaunte Howard, the American who took the silver medal in the event at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. It is little wonder that the world heptathlon champion restricted herself to "half a cake" on her birthday. She will have her plate more than full in Glasgow this afternoon – and at the World Indoor Championships in Doha in March.

Hyleas Fountain, the American Olympic silver medalist who missed the World Championships last year because of injury, is likely to be back to challenge the British multi-eventer. "I'm assuming she'll be there, and it'll be tough," Ennis said. "Although I'm going into it as world champion, it's a new year and you start all over again."

Still, the Sheffield woman has made a flying start to her year: as a Doctor of Literature, a Great Britain team captain – oh, yes, and as the proud-as-punch recipient of a "Blue Peter" gold badge.

Comments