Nick Matthew column: British rivalry comes at make or break time for athletics

Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill.
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All eyes will be on my friend Jessica Ennis-Hill when the World Athletics Championships get underway in Beijing, China, this week.

It will be fascinating to see how Jess gets on in her first worlds since giving birth to her son, Reggie.

Athletics has missed Sheffield superstar Jess. She is an icon of her sport and it is great to see her competing at the top level again.

I’m sure the Great Britain team are delighted Jess is back and her return gives them a big boost. Her goal will be to get on the podium and that will give her a great stepping stone for the Olympics in Rio next year.

I am looking forward to seeing Jess go head-to-head with fellow Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon, although there are other athletes out there who will fancy their chances of doing well. Jess and KJT have not faced each other over seven events since London 2012.

Everyone loves a rivalry in sport. In squash, I have had a reasonable one with James Willstrop over the years so it will be interesting to see how Jess and KJT handle it.

Out of the two of them, Jess is clearly the senior athlete. Jess won’t thank me for saying it but there is a big age gap between the two. She’s the one who calls me the golden oldie!

At 29, Jess probably hasn’t got a lot more Olympics left in her. Her rivalry with KJT will not go on for a decade so we should enjoy the next few years that they go head-to-head.

What adds to the intrigue is that Jess and KJT have strengths in different events. Jess’s strongest events are the 100m hurdles and 200m whereas KJT, who recently had a knee injury, is great at the long and high jumps. Jess’s strong events come early so hopefully she will get off to a good start. One thing is for certain, it will be great to watch.

The World Championships is really the warm up for Rio. It is where everyone will be measuring up the competition and seeing where each other’s games are up to. You see it in cycling. Quite often GB don’t have the worlds the year before the Olympics and then they go on to win all the medals. They peak specifically for that event.

It is a make or break time for athletics following the recent doping allegations. They need a good, clean World Championships.

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