Sheffield turns out to cheer Jess home


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The Independent Online

Bubbling with anticipation and bursting with pride, hundreds cheer and whoop as the screen fills with the image of the one they've come to see: the local girl-turned-national icon. Jessica Ennis, here more perhaps than anywhere, is the focus of everyone's hopes and dreams.

The Don Valley stadium in Sheffield, where as a skinny 10-year-old she took her first sporting steps, is brimming with expectation.

Jess fires the javelin to a career best of 47.49m – the savvy crowd knows this should secure her the heptathlon gold medal. Cue flag waving, smiles, hugs and toasting all round.

Patrick Smith, general manager of the stadium, is beaming. "All she's got to do is stay on her feet now and she's got it," he shouts, as he looks at the hundred or so girls and boys engaged in a variety of sports – netball, table tennis, wheelchair basketball. While the children dream of being another Olympian, Patrick is working to ensure they do it at Don Valley.

But that is for another day. Today Sheffield pays homage to its most famous sportswoman.

The smiles and relief that follow the javelin throw come after a nervous morning, with Ennis registering a tepid effort in the first round of the long jump. A strong second jump gets the crowd cheering – indeed, with events starting at 10am and finishing nearly 11 hours later, watching the heptathlon is a feat of endurance itself.

"This is a very proud day for Sheffield, and Jessica will rank alongside Sebastian Coe," the former Sheffield MP Richard Caborn crows after the javelin ends. Caught up in the growing hysteria, he points to the spot where Ennis honed her javelin skills. "I saw her nail her javelin here a couple of months ago and she's done it in London today," he says.

It is a sweet moment for Caborn, who helped to bring the World Student Games to Sheffield in 1991, which led to the creation of the stadium.

Richard and Charlotte Surridge, who are attacking their picnic with the same dedication as Ennis attacked the long jump, have come down with their three-year-old, Amelie.

Richard says: "We only decided to come down last night. It's really exciting." He adds: "Amelie cheers at the TV when we win a gold, but she doesn't understand much more." Have the Games made them think of pushing her into sport? "The second she shows any interest, I will," he says.

Graham White and friends have come well prepared. "We are here to cheer Jessica on and be part of the experience," he tells me, chair in prime position in front of the screen.

Graham explains that cost and hassle deterred them from visiting London itself and, apart from the torch relay, the natives were feeling a little left out – until today.

"I'm proud to be from Sheffield," says Chris Gregg. Claire Fearnehough's eight-year-old goes to athletics. "It's all Jessica, Jessica, Jessica," she says.

As she triumphs, hundreds of Ennis fans in the Don Valley stadium, some of whom had been here since 10am, roar her home.

Seconds after she crosses the line, Mick Thompson, the coach who first spotted her talent 16 years ago, wiping tears from his eyes, says: "She had to go and win it, she wanted to come home as a champion. I am so proud of her. This is just fantastic."