THE coach of Sheffield golden girl Jessica Ennis says her chances of retaining her Olympic title in 2016 are ‘being compromised’ by Sheffield Council’s decision to close Don Valley Stadium.
It was confirmed on Friday the Attercliffe stadium, as well as Stocksbridge Leisure Centre, would be shut as part of a £50 million cost -cutting exercise – with more cuts to come until 2018.
And coach Toni Minichiello, believes Jess, who discovered athletics in the stadium aged nine and still trains their regularly, will see her performance suffer as a result.
Toni, who coached Jess to the London 2012 Olympic heptathlon title, said: “On a personal level, Jess will suffer. We use Don Valley three times a week. After each session we can walk over to the English Institute of Sport and receive physio treatment.
“If we have to relocate, we start to factor in travel time, long car journeys – an hour’s vibrations to get to a massage table. But before you know it, she’s got a stiff back and we’re missing training sessions.
“We need to keep her in top condition if we want to be sure she has the best of winning gold in Rio.
“Jess is a hometown girl who has inspired a generation to get involved with athletics.
“There are more than 800 children now who train at the facility when there used to be 340.
He also admitted his ‘anger’ towards the decision.
He said: “It’s not solely frustrating on behalf of the 1,600 young people who regularly run there and it’s not even just a response to the fact Jess’s chances of defending her Olympic title in Rio 2016 are being compromised – though they are.
“The anger is about a series of systematic errors in government policy affecting a generation of children who want to be involved in sport.”
Mike Corden, chairman of the City of Sheffield Athletics Club, which uses the stadium, said: “The writing was on the wall as soon as they didn’t instantly rename it after Jess following the Olympics.
He said the country ought to be able to find £700,000 a year to pay for a facility that would cost about £100 million to build from scratch now.
“Last year, Boris Johnson, Seb Coe, David Cameron and Tessa Jowell were all preening themselves: Let them all come and look at what is left.
“Is this the legacy that Lord Coe wanted?”
Jess, of Dore, herself said: “So sad to lose Don Valley Stadium. Where it all started for me. Great memories.”