Ennis quietly applies final touches to Olympic plan
Britain's heptathlon gold-medal hope chooses another small meet to tune long jump and javelin
For a multi-disciplinary athlete, peaking at the right moment is both an art form and a science. Jessica Ennis, who was close to her best in breaking the British heptathlon record in Gotzis in May, had shown one or two signs of slipping back in recent weeks, but the young woman who carries so much of the nation's Olympic expectations on her slim shoulders yesterday provided some evidence she will be ready when it counts.
True, the Loughborough European Athletics Permit Meeting may not prove to have been quite the pressure-cooker atmosphere Ennis will be plunged into in London next month. On the other hand, the City of Sheffield athlete's preference for the local and low-key when it comes to preparation evidently works for her, as she proved by competing in a county meet at Barnsley a fortnight before beating the world's best in Austria.
There were perhaps 300 spectators in the Paula Radcliffe Stadium to see Ennis bookend an afternoon's sport by taking part in the long jump at the start and the javelin at the end. This was all about polishing technique and confidence in events in which she has sometimes wobbled, and Ennis was happy enough with her efforts in both.
In the long jump, she produced a relatively solid series by the standard of her two previous appearances in this country. In the UK Olympic trials in Birmingham last month she had fouled three times and run through twice, with her only clean jump of 6.27m good enough for sixth. Her previous outing, in Bedford a couple of weeks earlier, had seen her foul four times, so it can justifiably be described as progress for her to have produced five clean jumps out of six yesterday.
None could have been described as spectacular – the best, her last, was 6.21m, some 30cm below the personal best she equalled in Gotzis – and it was apparent she was thinking more about her run-up than the actual jump.
The same applied in the javelin, the event that let her down so badly when she finished second in last September's World Championships, when her best effort was 39.95m.
A winter working with the former world championship bronze medallist Mick Hill has produced a more grooved and rhythmic throwing action, with the result that Ennis has consistently thrown over 45m this season, culminating in a personal-best 47.11m in Gotzis.
If she throws that sort of distance in London she will almost certainly become Olympic champion, but after opening with 44.73m, wind and rain prevented her from throwing beyond that mark. Not that it worried her. "The rain didn't bother me – most likely it's going to be raining in London too," she said. "But while it's always nice to throw a 'pb' I'm happy with where I am. I don't want to be getting in my big throws too early.
"In the long jump I'm obviously not pleased with the distance, but after the trials I had to go away and make some changes to my run-up to make sure I hit the board and didn't foul, and in that respect I'm happy." It was, she said, "a little weird" to think that her next competition would be the Games.
"I'm just glad I'm, touch wood, in one piece and happy. I've done all the hard work, now it's a case of going away to the GB holding camp [in Portugal] and just sharpen up a bit. I know everyone is going to be in great shape but I feel in good shape too, so I'm looking forward to it now. It's nice to be in this position, because you never really know what's going to happen."
Smilingly signing autographs and posing for pictures, Ennis looked like an athlete who knows she is as well prepared as she can be, and while the rest of the Great Britain team will have something of a final send-off at the London Grand Prix next week, she will – as so often – be doing her own thing.
"It's going to be very different with the massive crowds, but I'm used to meets like this and I'm happy to do my last bits of preparation here, and now I'm just ready to go off and get ready in Portugal," she said.
Having coached Ennis since she was 11, Toni Minichiello is the perfect person to pass judgement on his protégé's preparations. And he is pleased too.
"Yeah, I'm happy enough," he said. "We've still got two weeks training and two weeks of tapering, though it's interesting to think that in four weeks' time we'll be waiting for the 800m [the last event in the heptathlon] to start." By which time, of course, a nation hopes the gold medal will be pretty much secure.
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