Ennis turns frontrunner for Britain's indoor goal

'There's a target on my back now' admits world champion as team seek lift for 2012
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The Independent Online

For Jessica Ennis, Dwain Chambers and the rest of the Great Britain track and field troops, there was a rallying call from Charles van Commenee on the eve of the World Indoor Championships, which begin here in the Qatari capital this morning.

"I always make an effort to do a special team speech before a championship, usually associated with the location," the head coach of the British team said yesterday." At the outdoor World Championships in Berlin last summer there was the analogy of the 1936 Olympic Games, where Jesse Owens had to overcome so many obstacles. Here in Doha, not so long ago it was a desert and see what it is now? Somebody here decided to make something big out of nothing. They had a dream."

The great dream for the Great Britain team and their inspirational Dutch coach is not so much to make something big in Doha but to do so on home soil in the London Olympics of 2012. As Van Commenee underlined before arriving on the shores of the Persian Gulf, success on the boards tends to bear no great relevance to the bigger picture of outdoor competition. Indoor athletics has always been something of a phoney war. Not all of the sport's major players put themselves on the line.

In the men's 60m, there will be no Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay or Asafa Powell barring Dwain Chambers' path to gold. There will also be no Ivory Williams, the American, who stood above the Belgrave Harrier in the world rankings this year, having been suspended late on Wednesday night after testing positive for metabolites of marijuana. Some twist of fate, that, for Britain's most high-profile former doping offender.

In the women's 800m, there will be no Caster Semenya for Jenny Meadows to contend with, although in the case of the South African that is because – as the International Association of Athletics Federations confirmed yesterday – the matter of her gender verification tests has yet to be acted upon by the governing body.

When it comes to the women's pentathlon, though, it will be rather different for Ennis. The Sheffield athlete who struck world outdoor heptathlon gold in Berlin last August will be facing all of the big hitters from the women's multi-events scene. All of those who have emerged since the peerless Carolina Kluft moved on to other things, that is.

Nataliya Dobrynska, the Ukrainian who succeeded Kluft as Olympic champion two years ago, will be competing alongside Ennis in the Aspire Dome tomorrow. So will the Beijing silver medallist, Hyleas Fountain of the United States, and the bronze medal winner, Tatyana Chernova of Russia. All three will be gunning for the 24-year-old Briton who missed the 2008 Olympics because of injury but who took the world title in Berlin in emphatic style.

"There's a target on my back now," Ennis acknowledged. "It's my first major competition as the world champion and I'm there to be shot at.

"Dobrynska, Chernova and Fountain are all competing really well and I'm sure they want to go out there and win," she added. "Along the way they're going to try to bring me down, but I'll be giving it everything to try to stay at the top."

On the form she produced in the opening month of the indoor season, Ennis would start as a red-hot favourite. In three competitions she racked up eight indoor personal bests, including a British record of 7.95 seconds in claiming the scalp of world indoor 60m hurdles champion Lolo Jones. Since the Aviva International in Glasgow on 30 January, though, she has been under wraps after suffering a ligament strain in her right foot. The question is: can she pick up this weekend where she left off six weeks ago?

"I don't believe I will have lost anything," Ennis said. "Having missed the trials and the Birmingham Grand Prix, I've had that extra time to rest. I've got that bit of freshness back in my legs, and with the same kind of shape that I was in before, I hope that will stand me in good stead."

If Ennis can pick up the threads of her early-season form she should threaten Kelly Sotherton's British record score for the five-event pentathlon, 4,927 points – if not the world record of 4,991 held by Irina Belova of Russia. "If I'm honest, records are not on my mind," she said. "I'm just concentrating on taking each event at a time."

Only two British women have won world indoor titles. Yvonne Murray was the first, taking the 3,000m crown in Toronto in 1993. Ashia Hansen won the triple jump at Maebashi in Japan in 1999 and also in Birmingham in 2003. Striking gold on home ground two years hence remains the number one aim for Ennis, but a Midas touch in what once was desert would not go amiss.

Doha dreams: Other British hopes

Jenny Meadows Having made the podium at the outdoor World Championships last summer, Meadows has her sights trained on another global medal. It would take a brave soul to bet against the Wigan athlete, who took bronze in Berlin and who relieved Kelly Holmes of the British indoor 800m record three weeks ago. The 28-year-old stands second on the world rankings behind Yevgeniya Zinurova but another Russian, Mariya Savinova, looks the big danger, having beaten Meadows in Moscow and clocked a nifty 52.05sec for 400m this season.

Dwain Chambers He was untouchable on the boards 12 months ago, blasting to the European indoor 60m title in Turin and clocking a continental record of 6.42sec in the semi-finals. This time he takes on the world, although thankfully for the Belgrave Harrier the very best speed merchants on the planet – Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Co – do not bother dusting down their racing spikes for indoor competition. By a twist of irony, the one-time doping offender goes into the heats today as the top-ranked contender, thanks to a positive drugs test registered by America's Ivory Williams.