Magical memories of 2012 - Athletics: 'The roar for Jessica Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck'
3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics
Friday 21 December 2012
Approaching the vast white crucible of the Olympic Stadium on the opening morning of track and field competition, Friday 3 August, you had to laugh at the familiar sound of John Deacon's bass line and Freddie Mercury's lyric booming over the public address system. "Under Pressure? Tell me about it," Jess Ennis must have been thinking to herself as she clocked on for the opening shift in her two-day, seven-event date with destiny.
As the Union Flagged hordes squeezed through the gates, all 80,000 of them, it was ironic to reflect back to the morning of 14 January, when the poster girl of London 2012 queued up to get her number for her opening event of 2012. There were 32 of us watching her in the shot putt that morning, leaning on a barrier behind the track at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
There were no signs back then of any pressure taking its toll as the build-up to the home Olympics began in earnest. The only thing troubling Ennis was a faulty boiler. "I got back from a long day's training yesterday to find it had broken," she said. "We had a cold night."
Four months later, at the Yorkshire Championships at windswept Cudworth, the mining village on the edge of Barnsley that was home to Michael Parkinson, it was a similar story. All day long, the pride of Sheffield was besieged by young athletes, parents and coaches, all wanting an autograph, a quick phone-picture and a word or two. "Win us that gold medal, won't you," most of them urged. "I'll try my best," Ennis replied each time, with a smile. She met every request with typical warmth and gratitude – and still found time to putt the shot and throw the javelin.
When it got to 3 August and the opening event of the Olympic heptathlon, the 100m hurdles, you wondered just what effect carrying the hopes of a nation would have on the slender 5ft 5in South Yorkshirewoman. The roar as Ennis was introduced to the crowd was the first big moment when the hair stood up on the back of the neck at London 2012. It would have been understandable had she been taken aback, twitched in her starting blocks or buckled to some degree. Quite the opposite occurred.
All of the energy was channelled into a turbo-charged performance and a stunning time of 12.54sec, a British record. It was the first sign that London 2012 was going to be something special in the showpiece track-and-field arena. It was tangible evidence that Ennis was Teflon-coated in the pressure department.
It was the same on the evening of the day that followed, as she sprinted past Tatyana Chernova to win the 800m, complete her overall victory, and launch the British golden hour of that "Super Saturday".
Made in Sheffield, forged into a world-beater there by her long-time coach Toni Minichiello, Ennis truly is a golden, grounded, inspirational product of the Steel City.
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Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce
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