When asked to describe the stand-out moment of last summer, for Jessica Ennis-Hill it was not so much the gold medal being placed around her neck or the national anthem blaring out inside the Olympic Stadium.
Rather it was those first nervous steps as she entered the venue for day one of the heptathlon, what she called “a moment that will stick with me for ever”.
The steps she takes into the stadium today, a year on, will be infinitely more tentative, knowing that the Achilles injury that has curtailed her ambitions this year could flare up and end her season before it has begun.
Ennis-Hill had her first competition of note on Tuesday, competing in the javelin and long jump at a meeting in Loughborough, and she came through relatively unscathed though did admit to feeling pain. The double challenge of the hurdles and the long jump, however, will be the acid test as to whether she can make it to the World Champ- ionships, let alone be competitive.
The injury has meant that she is far from race sharp. Prior to two hurdling sessions last week, she had not trained over the hurdles for the previous six weeks. Her running ambitions were seriously hampered, the focus instead on weights and cycling.
This is her running debut for 2013, just three weeks before the start of the World Championships, meaning she is unsure how she will fare at the major championships this year.
“I think it’s going to be a good test, to do the hurdles and then go to the long jump,” she said. “That’s trying to simulate what I’m going to do in Moscow; to see how it holds up. Tuesday was the first test and coming out from that I had a good response and it didn’t react too badly. This is the next big test.”
The pain in her Achilles is not about to go any time soon. Instead, she will just have to limit it with painkillers and heavy strapping. Where once, if fit, she would have been a red-hot favourite in Moscow, now she is still uncertain whether she will even make the start line there. Asked if she could win the Worlds, she hardly fired a confident note in response: “I definitely feel in a better position than I was last week and the week before.”
To some degree, her hurdling into the unknown means she cannot wholly enjoy her return to the scene of her greatest triumph, mainly because of the nagging thoughts in the back of her mind about an injury that refuses to go away. She concluded: “The last time I hurdled was in the Olympic Stadium. I could not have been more ready last year and I think I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum this year. I’m just going to go out there and give it my all and see what happens.”
While Ennis is hobbling, the other star British attraction, Mo Farah, has a noticeable spring in his step. In his last race, he broke Steve Cram’s 28-year-old British record for the 1500m, and the hope is he could break Dave Moorcroft’s 3000m mark set in 1982 this afternoon. On his chances of doing so, Farah said simply: “I’m just going to leave you guys guessing.”
The year has not been without its problems, though: he admitted he has not seen his twin girls, Aisha and Amani, since racing in the United States at the start of June. Added to that sacrifice is the pressure of being at the top of the pile in long-distance running. “The hardest thing is being at the top because everybody wants to knock you down,” he confessed. “Sometimes you’ve got to motivate yourself and think about your decision – that’s what really drives us.”
Whatever the result in London today, Farah’s message, however, echoes that of his fellow London gold medallist, Ennis-Hill. “Moscow’s the most important thing for me, that’s what I’m getting ready for,” he said.
Weekend schedule: The highlights
2pm Men’s long jump (featuring Chris Tomlinson)
2.11pm Women’s 100m hurdles (featuring Jessica Ennis-Hill)
3.05pm Men’s 400m hurdles
3.27pm Women’s 200m final
3.50pm Women’s long jump (featuring Ennis-Hill)
3.55pm Women’s 400m (with Christine Ohuruogu)
4.07pm Men’s 110m hurdles final
4.20pm Women’s 100m final
4.32pm Men’s 3,000m (Mo Farah)
4.50pm Men’s 4 x 100m relay (Usain Bolt) TV 1.30-5.15pm, BBC1
3.16pm Women’s T33/34 100m (Hannah Cockcroft)
4.01pm Women’s T37 100m (Bethany Woodward)
4.23pm Men’s T42 200m (Richard Whitehead)
5.01pm Men’s T43/44 100m (Jonnie Peacock)
5.14pm Men’s T54 mile (David Weir)
TV 3-5.30pm, Channel 4