The last time Kelly Sotherton was seen in an athletics arena she was stepping on to the rostrum at the World Championships in Osaka last summer to collect the heptathlon bronze medal. Six months on, the Birchfield Harrier was getting back into the competitive groove yesterday, taking her first step towards challenging for bronze, silver or even gold in Beijing.
The long jump on day one of the Norwich Union World Trials and UK Championships was event one on a busy weekend for the 31-year-old. With the 60m hurdles and high jump to come today in competition with Jessica Ennis – the Sheffield athlete who was close behind her in fourth place in Osaka – she emerged from her winter training in winning shape, securing victory with a leap of 6.41m. "It's not my best, but it's always good to win a title," she said, before proceeding to place sixth in the shot put with 14.0m.
It was an encouraging enough start to an indoor season in which the Olympic bronze medallist will cross swords with Carolina Kluft, the invincible queen of the multi-event world, not once but twice. They meet in a special three-event challenge (60m hurdles, long jump and 400m) in Sotherton's adopted home town, Birmingham, in the Norwich Union Grand Prix in the National Indoor Arena a week today, then in the pentathlon at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia next month.
Kluft has prevaricated about committing to the heptathlon in Beijing, though contesting multi-events six months out is a strong indication that the Swede will defend her Olympic crown – and compete in the long jump.
Kluft has yet to lose an indoor pentathlon or an outdoor heptathlon as a senior. "I think I can give Kluft a run for her money," Sotherton said, her eyes on the main prize in Valencia.