Charles Van Commenee knows a thing or two about the women's multi-events world. He was the guru who guided Denise Lewis to Olympic heptathlon gold in Sydney in 2000 and who took Kelly Sotherton from 57th in the world rankings to the heptathlon bronze medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Hence the head coach of the Great Britain track and field team, the Dutchman enlisted by UK Athletics to help bring about home success in the Olympic arena in 2012, knew what he was talking about when he sat back at the end of the Aviva International here in Glasgow on Saturday and assessed the impact made by Jessica Ennis, the Sheffield woman who won the World Championship heptathlon title in Berlin last summer.
"She was outstanding," Van Commenee said. "As a heptathlete, winning the 60 metres hurdles and beating the world indoor champion in that event is extraordinary." And this from an arch pragmatist not prone to proffering praise, who famously told the world that Sotherton "ran like a wimp and a weasel" in the final event of the heptathlon at the Athens Olympics, the 800m – a hard taskmaster who has set the British team a record medal target of 19 for the European Championships in Barcelona in July.
But, then, it was a truly extraordinary 60m hurdles victory on Saturday by Ennis. She might be a world champion as an all-rounder but she was up against one of the best specialist hurdlers in the world. Lolo Jones led the field in the 100m hurdles final at the Beijing Olympics until she smashed into the penultimate barrier. In the aftermath of her shock defeat on Saturday the American could not recall the last time she was beaten in an indoor race. It was in Karlsruhe, Germany, in February 2008 and it took a world record performance by Susanna Kallur of Sweden to do it.
Ennis was not even an official match-scoring competitor in the 60m hurdles on Saturday. She was a guest, lining up the fifth fastest of six on lifetime bests. Having improved her 60m flat sprint time by 0.11 seconds already this year, it came as no surprise to see the 24-year-old British team captain blast out of her blocks and show her new-found speed. It came as a shock even to Ennis, though, that she managed to beat Jones, by 0.02sec, and to set a new British record time of 7.95sec. Sarah Claxton, the previous holder of the record, at 7.96sec, finished fourth in 8.20sec. An Olympic finalist in the 100m hurdles in 2008, she was the official GB representative in the race.
"Not for one minute did I expect to win," Ennis said. "I expected to get close to my personal best [8.12sec] but to beat Lolo Jones...that's mad." It was disorientating for Jones too. "Letting a heptathlete, who practises every event, beat me when I'm only working on one thing...that's kind of crazy,"she said. "No excuses, though. Ennis had a great race."
It is a pattern already established in the still-embryonic indoor season. Another great race by Ennis and another personal best. There have been eight PBs now from the South Yorkshirewoman in 2010 – testament not just to her talent but to the expertise of her long-time coach, Tony Minichiello. After the hurdles on Saturday, PB number eight came with a clearance of 1.94m for second place in the high jump. All of which bodes well for the World Indoor Championships in Doha next month and a head-to-head with Hyleas Fountain, the American Olympic heptathlon silver medallist. As Van Commenee said: "To already be at a high level and to keep improving, to keep coming out with personal bests...that's very special."Reuse content