Golden girl Ennis is 'in a whirlwind' after medal heroics

Next stop 2012 Olympics for the Sheffield world champion
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It was the afternoon after the night before and Jessica Ennis was still basking in the gold medal-winning glow of her World Championship success. "I got about three hours sleep," the new world heptathlon champion said. "I feel really tired but I just can't stop smiling. I'm just in shock really. It's not sunk in."

Less than three weeks ago, the Sheffield woman was putting the shot in front of not much more than one man and his canine companion as it teemed down cats and dogs on a miserable East Midlands day at Loughborough University. Yesterday she was in danger of drowning under a flood of congratulatory messages. One of them came from 10 Downing Street.

"He just congratulated me and said I'd done Sheffield proud," Ennis said of the Prime Minister and his e-mail, which was printed out for her at the British team hotel. "I'll have to read through it again. Everything is a big whirlwind at the minute. I've not been in this position before."

Later in the day the 5ft 4in South Yorkshirewoman was standing on top of the podium in the Olympiastadion receiving the reward for her world beating efforts over the course of the seven heptathlon disciplines on Saturday and Sunday. The position in which she will find herself when she returns home with the rest of the British team next Monday will be as a pin-up girl for 2012, a golden hope for the London Olympics.

Is she ready for that? "I think so," Ennis replied. "I think this weekend I've learned. I had a lot of pressure and a lot of expectation from everyone and luckily I was able to control that and deliver. That's great practice for 2012 and hopefully I can do the same there."

The imperious manner in which she secured her world crown in the German capital would suggest very strongly that she can. Ennis led from start to finish and emerged victorious by a margin of 238 points. It was a commanding performance reminiscent of Carolina Kluft, the sparkling Swedish star who bagged three World Championship titles, in Paris in 2003, in Helsinki in 2005 and in Osaka in 2007 – plus Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 – before announcing last year that she would be moving on to the challenge of competitive life as a specialist long jumper.

Kluft is only 26, young enough to return to the heptathlon before 2012 with a record unblemished by defeat since her junior days back in 2001. Ennis had yet to receive a message of congratulation yesterday from the woman she succeeded as the queen of the heptathlon world. Was she worried that the untouchable Swede might be back on the scene as a big threat to her 2012 ambitions? "Someone told me they'd been speaking to Carolina's coach and that it was highly unlikely that she'd return to the heptathlon," Ennis said.

As it happened, Kluft – her summer season scuppered by a thigh injury last month – was saying the same thing to the Swedish press. "I don't think I'll be going to go back to the heptathlon," she said. "I feel I left the heptathlon when I was at the top and it feels good to leave it at that. It's a new challenge for me to be in the long jump. I love that challenge, so I guess I'm going to stay there."

Not an entirely shut door, then. Still, if Kluft ever did decide to come back to multi-events she would find herself facing a rival of not a little substance. Twelve months ago Ennis was sitting at home watching the Olympic heptathlon on television, suffering from a career-threatening triple stress fracture of the right foot. One year on, she has won the World Championship title with a lifetime best points tally of 6,731 – just two points short of the score that won gold in Beijing for Ukrainian Nataliya Dobrynska, who was no match in Berlin for the burgeoning Briton, finishing out of the medals in fourth place.

At 23, Ennis is still on an upward curve under the direction of Toni Minichiello, her coach of 11 years, who last week criticised UK Athletics for losing the services of a nutritionist, physiotherapist and performance analyst from the wider support team at her Sheffield base. Ennis' progress is pointing some way beyond Denise Lewis's British record, 6,831 points, which she may decide to attack at Talence in France next month.

For the time being, though, the new golden girl of British athletics is happy to savour her hard-earned world champion status. After a few celebratory drinks with her boyfriend, Andy, and a group of close friends in the early hours yesterday, the psychology graduate made the wise decision to sit on her heptathlon gold and withdraw her entry from the 110m hurdles later this week.

Her one regret yesterday was that her parents, Alison and Vinnie, were not around to join the celebrations. The Ennises decided not to make the trip to Berlin after their experience last year, when they bought tickets and flights to watch their daughter in Beijing and lost out financially when ill-fortune intervened. "When I got injured they didn't want to leave me at home by myself," Jessica said. "They got a bit of money back but lost a lot."

Still, like their daughter, Mr and Mrs Ennis must be feeling like a million dollars now. In 2012 it will be just a 170-mile drive for them down the M1 from Sheffield to the field of their golden girl's Olympic dreams.