It was the morning after the night before and, 12 hours after standing on top of the medal podium with the national anthem ringing round the London Olympic Stadium, Jess Ennis was still wearing her gold medal. "I've only had two hours' sleep," she said. "It's not sunk in at all yet."
There was a lot to sink in. For three years, ever since she won the World Championship heptathlon title in Berlin, the 5ft 5in Sheffield woman had been the big British hope for the showpiece sport in the home Olympic Games. For three long years, while she had been putting in the hard graft in the Steel City, her face had been staring down at her from countless billboards.
"Under Pressure," the Queen and David Bowie collaboration, was playing over the public address system when she entered the Olympic Stadium for the opening event of the heptathlon on Friday morning. "Heroes," the Bowie anthem that has become the home anthem of the 2012 Games, boomed out as she crossed the line in the 800m on Saturday night to launch the great British track and field gold rush – three in 45 electric minutes.
It was maybe not the time to mention it, but surely it was a Jack Nicholson moment: As good as it gets? "Yes, I think it will be very hard to top that," Ennis reflected, still beaming as she sat with her gleaming gold medal at Team GB House. "It's going to be one of my greatest moments, but I am still only 26. I think I have a few more years left and I want to keep going. I definitely want to have a bit of a break now, and switch off and enjoy life, but I definitely want to achieve a little bit more in the sport."
It was good to hear. The glory days are back for British athletics, as some of us suspected they might be, but as the sport seeks to regain the mainstream profile it enjoyed in the Coe-Ovett era it very much needs the South Yorkshirewoman with the Midas touch and the golden disposition.
There could not be a finer role model and standard-bearer than the thoroughly engaging, thoroughly grounded individual who has not so much taken the huge home Olympic pressure in her stride as channelled it into the positive energy that produced a tour de force of a performance that added up to a British record score of 6,955 points and a commanding winning margin of 306 points.
"I can talk about it openly now, because it's done," Ennis said. "I was really aware of all the pressure and what people were expecting me to do. Everyone was expecting me to win.
"I've had a few moments at home with my fiancé worrying a bit and wondering if it was all going to go right, or if something would happen and I would fall apart. It was a huge amount of pressure but a unique position I was in.
"I wanted to make the most of that opportunity and make sure I trained as hard as I could and delivered on the two days. Thankfully, I can sit here and say that I did."
She could indeed, and for that she had one key individual to thank. For 13 years now Toni Minichiello has been steadily building – bit by bit, year by year – the diminutive Ennis into the huge talent that is now beyond question the planet's greatest all-round female athlete.
"Toni has played a massive part," Ennis duly acknowledged. "He has coached me from a 13-year-old who knew nothing about athletics. I can't thank him enough for the time and dedication he has given to me over the years."
That time and dedication have helped to take Ennis up into fifth place in the world all-time heptathlon rankings. Jackie Joyner-Kersee's world record score of 7,291 points might be out of reach as she looks beyond London 2012 but Carolina Kluft's European record of 7,032 is not beyond her compass.
"I always said 7,000 points was ridiculous," Ennis said. "I didn't think I would get anywhere near it. But now it's definitely within reach."
One challenge she did rule out was the 100m hurdles here. Ennis had been entered for the individual event, but essentially as a back-up in case of a disaster in the heptathlon. "To be honest, my body is aching and tired," she said. "I don't think I could be at the level I need to be in the heats."
"Quitter!" someone quipped, to Ennis's great amusement.
Back in 2008 she might have been forced to quit because of the triple fracture of the foot that led to her missing the Beijing Olympics. Four years on, it is the rest of the world that Sheffield's finest has left smithereened.Reuse content