Multi-skilled Ennis must raise bar again to land on podium

Heptathlon glory will put Briton in seventh heaven
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The Independent Online

For Jessica Ennis, there is no looking back – in anger or frustration – as she prepares to make her return to the heptathlon by the shores of Lake Garda next weekend. There has been much for the multi-talented Sheffield woman to endure since she last completed a seven-event competition. In May last year, her hopes of challenging for an Olympic medal came to premature grief when she withdrew midway through the annual Hypo heptathlon at Gotzis in Austria suffering from what proved to be a stress fracture of the right ankle. Then came the lifetime ban given to Lyudmila Blonska when the Ukrainian tested positive for methyltestosterone at the Beijing Games, after finishing runner-up to her compatriot Nataliya Dobrynska.

For Ennis, the Blonska ban rubbed salt into the lingering wound of having missed a World Championship medal by the tantalising margin of 41 points in Osaka in 2007, when she placed fourth behind Sweden's Carolina Kluft, Blonska and her British team-mate Kelly Sotherton. Given that Blonska was returning from an earlier drugs ban on that occasion, Ennis must surely feel she has a moral claim on a global medal.

"Well, it is disappointing as to how it all unfolded," she reflected, picking her words with diplomatic care. "And yeah, if you look back, I could have won a bronze medal, which is a shame. But it's happened now and I don't think there's any point in dwelling on it and getting upset about missing out on a medal. Thankfully, now she's out of the sport for good."

And, happily, Ennis is back. Next Saturday and Sunday she will be in Desenzano del Garda in northern Italy, getting back into the swing of things as a competitive heptathlete in the annual Multistars event there. Beyond that, her sights are on the World Championships in Berlin in August, where she will have the chance to win a global medal by her own efforts. The Italian event will be her first heptathlon attempt since her abortive appearance in Gotzis 12 months ago. The last heptathlon she completed was the World Championship competition in Osaka in August 2007.

"Yeah, it's such a long time since I competed properly in a heptathlon," Ennis said. "It's going to be really weird. I feel nervous, very nervous, but also excited. I'm looking forward to competing again but I'm just a little bit anxious and wary as to how it will evolve. But it should be good, I think. I competed in a few low-key individual events in the indoor season and I've done one or two outdoors in the last few weeks, just to test my run-ups and stuff. I think it's been going well, so I'm looking forward to next weekend. I haven't seen the entry list yet. I'll have a look next week and see who'll be there. But it's mainly about making sure everything's right for me, making sure I'm ready to go in there and compete well.

"I want to wait and see how it goes next week before deciding whether or not to do another heptathlon before Berlin. I want to see what kind of score I get and how the seven events go, and see what I need to work on, what I need to go back and revisit.

"I might do another heptathlon before Berlin, but if I can get the qualifying score in Desenzano [6,100 points] I may just carry on preparing in individual events before the World Championships. That would be an ideal situation."

Ennis has been to Desenzano before. In 2007, she equalled the British high jump record, 1.95m, en route to breaking Denise Lewis's British under-23 heptathlon record with a winning score of 6,388 points. She improved her personal best to 6,469 points in Osaka later that summer but the 23-year-old psychology graduate knows she will need to raise the bar again if she is to challenge for a place on the podium in Berlin.

Even with the untouchable Kluft now out of the heptathlon equation, the three-time world champion having moved on to the "fresh challenge" of the long jump, it took 6,619 points to win an Olympic medal in Beijing – or 6,591 following the retrospective disqualification of Blonska.

"The event has moved on since Osaka," Ennis acknowledged. "People have left the heptathlon and others have come through. Also, I think you'll have up-and-coming youngsters emerging who might pull out some big scores as well, so it's a bit of an unpredictable event at the moment. It's always good competition in the heptathlon anyway. And, points-wise, it has moved on since the last time I competed properly.

"That was in 2007. Now I think I need to be in 6,600-points shape to contend for medals. And that's where I hope to be." In Berlin in August, if not in Desenzano next weekend.