It was as inevitable as death, taxes and the endless loop of Frasier repeats. For five years and 151 races, Jodie Williams had been unbeatable, tearing up age-group records, pocketing a sprint double at the World Youth Championships last summer, and taking the world junior 100m title in her stride in midweek.
Then, when it came to the 200m final at the World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada, in the early hours of yesterday, the young flier from the Herts Phoenix Athletics Club finally became acquainted with a phenomenon called defeat.
Given the wonderful first name of the leading American in the field, it was perhaps inevitable that Stormy Kendrick should storm to victory, claiming the gold medal in 22.99sec. Williams, feeling the toll of a sixth race in four days, did well to drag her weary body from fourth to second in the home straight, taking silver in 23.19. "I'll be happy later on," she said, "but at the moment there's still great shock at finishing second and losing my unbeaten run."
The disappointment was natural. Williams still leads the world junior rankings for 200m this year, with a time of 22.79 – a stunning achievement for a 16-year-old schoolgirl, and one who has been ploughing through her GCSEs. Williams is in her first year as a junior athlete. She will still be a junior when the 2012 Olympics come around.
"Jodie's a really bright spark for the future," Jessica Ennis said. "It was an amazing performance from her in the 100m at the world juniors. She'll be around for a long time, which is a really good thing for British athletics."
As Williams enjoys a well-earned break, it is Ennis who will be carrying the burden of British expectation into the European Championships, which open in Barcelona on Tuesday – and into the countdown to the London Olympics, which start two years from Tuesday. Having recovered from the triple ankle fracture which shattered her Beijing Olympic hopes two years ago to win the World Champ-ionship heptathlon title in Berlin last summer and the world indoor pentathlon crown in Doha in March, the Sheffield athlete has established herself as the global leader in multi-events, and as Britain's leading hope for gold both in the Catalan capital this week and on home ground in 2012.
Ennis has not lost a multi-events competition she has completed since coming fourth in the heptathlon at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. It is not entirely inevitable that the 24-year-old will become reacquainted with defeat some day. Carolina Kluft went through her entire senior heptathlon career unbeaten, before retiring from multi-events after her third world title in Osaka and concentrating on the long jump. The Swede failed to make the qualifying standard in that event for Barcelona but has been picked as a wild card by her national team selectors.
From Ennis, the British team captain in the Catalan capital, the minimum expectation is a win. As she spoke from the Aviva British team camp in Portugal on Friday, the possibility that she might lose was never broached.
"It's something I'm used to now," she said of the pressure of expectation. "I was ranked number one in the world going into the World Championships last year and everybody expected me to get the gold medal... I'm not going to let it bother me."Reuse content