Yes, she stands triumphant, unrivalled at the peak of her career, having achieved almost everything her sport has put before her. Yes, she is by her own admission, getting on a bit — in track and field years — at 26. But after a perfect London Games, Jessica Ennis isn’t retiring to a life of marital bliss and peaceful dog walking quite yet. Not until she has won back her world championship and perhaps completed a full set of medals with Commonwealth gold at Glasgow in 2014.
Strobed by camera-phone flashes and swooned over by excited visitors to an Olympic Park hospitality tent yesterday afternoon, Ennis stirred a cup of coffee thoughtfully as she spoke of her astonishment and deep satisfaction at winning the big one: gold at a home Games. And in her calm, charming and deceptively unassuming way, she promised more to come. More golds, more garlands, and perhaps even the ultimate sign of a heptathlon legend — a 7,000-point competition.
“Next year’s the World Championships,” Ennis said, of her ambitions after the Olympics. “I don’t plan to do an indoor season next year. I’m just going to ease back into things and take each year at a time. I feel really complete now. I’ve achieved some of my major goals I wanted to achieve in athletics. I haven’t won a gold at the Commonwealth Games, so that’s something I might want to do in the future. Apart from that I don’t want to do too much other than just enjoy this.”
As we’re talking, a well-heeled lady guest of the hospitality tent leans over to interrupt. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to say congratulations — you did us all really proud,” she says to Ennis, her face a study of sincere, patriotic pride. Then she turns to address me. “And congratulations — you’re getting married next year, aren’t you?” she says, earnestly.
It’s news to me.
“I think,” says an amused Ennis, as the wellwisher retreats back into the throng, “She thought you were my fiance.”
Well, if there is glory to be had by association with the glorious, being mistaken for the betrothed of Great Britain’s most bankable athlete will do. (Even if her real fiance, Andy Hill, is sitting a few feet away.) Ennis’s triumph in the heptathlon last Saturday night was the biggest of the big three home victories on “Super Saturday”, when Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah also won gold. And it sealed her place as the queen not only of heptathlon, or track and field; but of British sport, full stop.
“This has completely surpassed anything I could ever dream of,” she says. “It’s one thing winning an Olympics but it’s another doing it in your home country. It’s just incredible.
“The way I imagined it… I didn’t want to let myself think about winning too much, because I didn’t want to get ahead of myself,” she says.
“I was completely taken aback by the whole experience, the crowd and everything. It was really overwhelming. The first time I walked into the stadium for the hurdles, I half-expected there to be a few empty seats. It was early morning and normally at championships it’s kind of empty in the morning.Then when they announced my name, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There was so much positivity in the stadium, everyone wanting me to do well.”
Much of that noise, I suggest to her, was in appreciation of the granite-washboard physical condition she brought with her to the games. “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” she says. “I’ve been really focused, training so hard and pushing myself completely. It had been about all the little things: eating the right things, doing everything right in the lead-up. Just making sure I was in the best shape ever. I’m probably going to lose it all now when I go home and relax!”
I wonder whether one of the most satisfying facets of the Games has been the way in which ‘Team GB’ — a notional squad comprising hundreds of disparate athletes from the unknowns to the Ennises — seem to have grown into their role as world-beaters together? Certainly they seem to be celebrating together, judging by pictures in the papers of Ennis and cycling time trial gold medallist (and Tour de France champion) Bradley Wiggins swanking about with the Stone Roses.
“It’s such a weird feeling: everyone’s so proud of each other,” says Ennis, who says her best moment as a spectator was watching Lizzie Armitstead win Great Britain’s first medal with a silver in the women’s cycling road race.
“I’m just in awe of Bradley, having achieved what he’s achieved. But everyone’s coming back to the village with medals. Everyone has stepped up under the pressure and shown that we have some real talent here.”
Spearheaded, of course, by her. I wonder whether she’ll suffer the London 2012 Olympic comedown that will surely begin on Monday. The obvious challenge for her is to try to break the 7,000-point mark, which would bracket her with the all-time great figures of Carolina Kluft and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“I used to think [7,000] was well out of my reach but now I think it’s something I can definitely achieve,” she says. “If I’d had a better high jump this week it would have got me over that mark. It would be pretty special.”
But that’s for the future. “None of the athletes are really thinking about what’s going to happen after 2012,” Ennis says, still stirring her coffee and looking at the throng of fans, flunkies and cameramen all around her.
“It’s like the world’s going to end. You don’t know what to do with yourself after you’ve worked so hard for one thing. I think there’ll be a few people who’ll retire.”
“Not yet,” she says. “Not just yet.”
Then again, she adds, “I would say I’m at my peak now. It’s slowly going to drop off. I want to end on a positive performance. I can’t think about Rio [the next Summer Olympics, in 2016]. Four years is just too far away.”
And of course, no one lasts forever. “I have Kat [Katarina Johnson-Thompson] coming up,” says Ennis, referring to the popular 19-year old Liverpudlian who finished 15th in the heptathlon on Saturday.
“She’s amazing: so talented. She’ll be scoring more and more every year. I’ve got to get out of the game before she becomes too good!”
Well, all in good time. There’s life in Jessica Ennis yet.
How Jess saw her heptathlon
The sun was out, the track was fast – it was perfect. But I wasn’t thinking about breaking the British record. I just thought ‘I don’t want to fall over or make a false start,’ and just hoped I would run about 12.70s – 12.54 was just crazy.
A solid event. Nothing amazing, but nothing disastrous. I wanted a bit more – one more height would have been perfect. But I was happy. The hurdles and high jump are my strongest events, and I’d started off badly with them in Daegu [at the 2011 World Championships, where she won silver].
I felt I could have thrown a bit more, because I’d been throwing so well in the holding camp [in Portugal]. I was a bit disappointed but still happy with another solid performance.
I thought that [Lithuanian rival] Austra Skujyte would take over from the shot put onwards, so I wanted to have a really strong 200m and get my lead back, and I did. Normally I’m tired after this and sleep well overnight. But I didn’t this time – I was really anxious I was going to do something to mess up my lead. I was tossing and turning a lot.
I’d done a lot of no-jumps this year, so I was worrying that I was going to do three, and throw it all away. I was really, really anxious. But after my second jump of 6.40m, I knew I had a good lead. I knew my javelin was strong. I was pretty close to being there.
This let me down massively in Daegu, but it was a PB here. I’ve worked hard getting from a really rubbish thrower to a really good thrower. Now I had 15 seconds to play with in the 800m. I still thought I’d fall over, or my shoe would come off. I always think something will go wrong.
Normally this is painful and all I think about is the pain. But I didn’t have time to because the crowd was so loud. It sounds silly, but they really do carry you round.Reuse content