Pressure. What pressure?
It seems to be taken for granted that Jessica Ennis losing her world heptathlon title in Daegu, South Korea, last year has eased the burden on this summer’s Olympic Games poster girl.
I’m not so sure.
In the immediate aftermath of finishing second to Russia’s Tatyana Chernova there is an argument that, buried within the intense disappointment Ennis felt, a small weight may have lifted off her shoulders.
She wouldn’t have to ‘defend’ her position as Olympic-champion-elect every time she spoke to the media. The medal is hers to lose. Nothing can go wrong etc.
However, the world championships are ancient history now. Holidays have been had; hill runs are being done and the preparations for a tilt at defending her world indoor title in Turkey in March are well underway.
But before we go piling on, or taking off, the pressure from Ennis let’s just go back in time a bit.
I’ve been fortunate to know Ennis since she was a junior athlete and the quality that shines through more than any other is her honesty.
From a media perspective she’s a joy to work with because she answers questions truthfully. She’s intelligent enough to not to try to be ‘clever’ with her words. What you read about or see on the TV with Jess is the real her.
And that’s why I think that when she really examines what is ahead of her in August the pressure will be greater because of her defeat to Chernova.
There’s a common misconception in sport that a loss is sometimes a good thing. A team has gone 10 matches unbeaten and some sage will say that ‘a defeat will do them good’ it ‘will refocus their minds’. I’ve never seen how this works.
Let’s use a real life situation.
Imagine you’re going for a promotion at work that you really, really want. The pay is better, the conditions are far superior and there’s a lovely bonus every Christmas.
You’re considered by everyone else in the company to be the clear favourite for the job but there’s also someone else going for it as well.
As part of the selection procedure you have to do a trial interview and mock exam.
The results are revealed to you and you find out the other person has impressed more in the interview and got a better score in the exam.
How do you feel now? Has the pressure lessened? Will you feel happier going into the final interview knowing that the other person has the job in their hands?
That’s the situation that Ennis finds herself in now. Chernova beat her with a heptathlon score (6,880) that Jess hasn’t reached before.
Ennis’s personal best is 6,823. Yes, the margin is small and there’s no doubt a ‘home’ Games will lead to an inspired performance by the British athlete but there is no guarantee that she will make up the difference.
All this talk of the pressure easing when she lost her world title is just lazy.
Pressure from who exactly?
Ennis, who will take part in the shot put in this weekend’s Northern indoor meeting at the EIS, and her team just want to win. No sportsperson likes losing. At anything. Remember the look on her face at the end of the 800 metres when crossing the line with Chernova. Is that the face of someone who is relieved to have lost?
From the media? Ennis is the darling of the press at the moment, but she’ll still be tagged as favourite to win gold despite losing to her Russian rival in Daegu.
From the public? To the vast majority of people in this country all she has to do is remember to turn up in London and the gold will be hers. The minutiae of how far she must jump or throw the javelin is irrelevant.
No, the only pressure on Ennis is from herself.
She is the only one in control of the situation while the rest of us are the hurricane surrounding the calm eye of the storm.
In a recent interview Ennis suggested that everyone is back on a level playing field. This is true. It is a new season, a new year.
Until the world’s best gather in Gotzis, Austria, in May for the only pre-Olympic heptathlon event that Ennis will contest no one will really know who is the prime candidate to stand on the top step of the podium in London.
But please. Don’t let’s suggest that Ennis has somehow had the expectation lifted off her shoulders by not being world champion. Everyone still thinks she’ll win because of that very fact!
The realism is that she has the fight of her life on her hands to win the gold medal that every athlete aspires to.
If she does triumph it will be down to her hard work this winter, her preparations in the lead up to the Games and how she performs over the two days and seven disciplines.
Nothing more and nothing less.