It was all very different the last time a golden hope from Sheffield was preparing for an eagerly awaited duel in the Olympic track-and-field arena. Sebastian Coe might have lived in the same country as Steve Ovett but, in the lead-up to the Moscow Olympics, the great British kings of middle distance studiously avoided one another in the heat of competitive battle. Indeed, at one point, as they traded world records on the tracks of mainland Europe, one national broadsheet bemoaned in a leader column: "It as if they are playing a game of postal chess."
It is not an accusation that could be levelled at Jessica Ennis as she prepares for her Olympic heptathlon showdown in London in early August with the Russian who relieved her of her World Championship title in Daegu, South Korea, last summer – where their gold and silver medals were presented by Baron Coe of Ranmore, formerly plain Seb Coe of Hallamshire Harriers. Five months out from her two-day, seven-event duel with Tatyana Chernova in the east end of the English capital, the pride of the City of Sheffield Athletics Club locks horns with her burgeoning rival on the opening day of the World Indoor Championships in the Atakoy Athletics Arena in the capital of Turkey.
It promises to be quite a collision in the city where west meets east, where Europe bumps into Asia. The five disciplines of the indoor pentathlon take place in just a single day and the Anglo-Russian tussle here today could come down to the home straight of the ultimate event, the 800m, with Irina Belova's 20-year-old world indoor record haul of 4,991 points on the line, as well as the world indoor crown Ennis won in Doha two years ago.
At the pre-championship press conference at Istanbul's Olympic House yesterday, Chernova was asked whether the two adversaries might push each other over the 5,000 points mark. "It is the dream of all sportsmen and women to break a world record," the 24-year-old replied. "We will try. Every time we meet it is a good fight."
Speaking at the British team hotel nearby, Ennis did not dismiss the possibility of the world record falling. "I got quite close to it in Doha two years ago," the 26-year-old said. "Judging from the shape myself and the other girls are in, I think it's going to take a personal best to win. The world record is something that any one of us could achieve. It's not something I'm focusing on but it could be a nice bonus."
Ever since she lost her outdoor world title in Daegu seven months ago, Ennis has kept in mind a snapshot of her crossing the line in despair at the end of the 800m with the 6ft 2in Chernova celebrating overall victory close behind her. After two years as the pre-dominant force of the global women's multi-events scene, the erstwhile British golden girl paid the price for a disastrous javelin, below-par performances in two of her strong events (the 100m hurdles and high jump) and for Chernova finally fulfiling the promise she showed as a trail-blazing, world-beating junior.
It was the first time Ennis had been beaten by her – except, that is, from the Hypo-Meeting heptathlon at Gotzis in Austria in 2008, when she withdrew at the end of the first day suffering from the triple ankle fracture that was to rule her out of the Beijing Olympics.
In total, the pair have competed against each other eight times already. That is one encounter more than Coe and Ovett managed in an arms-length rivalry that stretched all the way from the intermediate boys' race at the English Schools' Championships in Hillingdon in 1972 to the 1500m final at the AAA Championships in Birmingham in 1989, sadly the only two races they ever contested on British soil.
Ennis and Chernova are likely to meet again before their big Olympic clash: at this year's Gotzis meeting in May. First, though, comes today's five-legged confrontation between the two in-form all-rounders: in the 60m hurdles, high jump, shot, long jump and 800m. "The last time I competed against Tatyana was in Daegu, so I'm looking forward to that head to head again," Ennis said. "It's going to be a massive psychological boost for anyone who does well here."
Captain Porter skips anthem audition
No sooner had Tiffany Porter been announced as captain of the British track and field squad for the World Indoor Championship yesterday than the American-born, American-raised hurdler was asked if she could sing "the first few lines of 'God Save the Queen'?"
"I do know the first verse," said Porter, a native of Ypsilanti, Michigan, who has a British mother, has possessed a British passport since birth and switched to the British team in the autumn of 2010. "I know the whole of 'God Save the Queen'. I'm not known for my singing ability." Invited to recite the words, Porter replied: "I don't think that's necessary."
Charles van Commenee, the head coach of the British team, was clearly unimpressed by the query. "I chose the team captain for her leadership skills, her athletic skills and her credibility, not for her ability to memorise words or her vocal skills," he said.
Olympic news you might have missed...
Great Britain's rhythmic gymnastics squad completed their selection hokey-cokey in reverse.
First they were out of the Olympics, having failed to meet the target set by British Gymnastics in January. Then they were in, after winning their appeal against the selection criteria. It remains to be seen, though, whether they can shake it all about when the Games begin.
"We want to prove to everyone that we do deserve to be there," squad member Rachel Smith said.
What's coming up...
Athletics GB look for a medal haul of up to eight at Istanbul's World Indoor Championships. Today's highlight is Jessica Ennis's clash with Russia's Tatyana Chernova in the pentathlon; Dwain Chambers starts the defence of his 60m title
Rowing The weekend's GB team trials at Eton Dorney will see boatloads of genuine Olympic medal prospects in action.
Ellen Gandy Broke the British record in the 100m butterfly and also qualified for the 200m fly at the British Olympic swimming trials.
Hannah Miley Olympic selection secured in style in both the 400m individual medley and the 200 individual medley for the Inverurie swimmer.
Dayron Robles The Cuban Olympic 110m hurdles champion has been forced to miss the World Indoor Championships with a leg injury.
Dr Ian McCurdie The chief medical officer of the British Olympic Association is in danger of spreading paranoia, by urging athletes not to shake hands with the public in orderto avoid picking up bugs.