Olympics Comment: Jessica Ennis-Hill’s Rio performance was top-drawer

Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill completes the 800m and claims a silver medal in the Women's Heptathlon at the Olympic Stadium on the eighth day of the Rio Olympics Games, Brazil.
Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill completes the 800m and claims a silver medal in the Women's Heptathlon at the Olympic Stadium on the eighth day of the Rio Olympics Games, Brazil.
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Make no mistake, Jessica Ennis-Hill’s silver medal performance in Rio was one of her finest.

Billed as a titanic clash with world leader Brianne Theison-Eaton and fellow Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Ennis-Hill had the measure of them both by the end of the fifth event, the long jump.

After event six, the javelin, she had left them for dead.

What no one foresaw was the emergence of 21-year-old Belgian Nafi Thian.

Not even Athletics Weekly, in their preview, mentioned her as a contender although she had laid down a marker in junior competitions.

In Rio she set no less than five personal bests never putting a foot wrong. One of these was the javelin where she threw a massive personal best of 53.13 to take a 142 lead into the final event.

Ennis-Hill never gave up and won the 800 metres from the front but a winning margin of some 10 seconds over Thian was needed to overturn the deficit.

The chances of that were remote and disappeared when the Belgian ran a personal best of 2:16.54, 6.47 seconds slower than Ennis-Hill.

Theison-Eaton took the bronze and Johnson-Thompson was sixth. It is hard to see how the Liverpool athlete can win a medal at world level unless she can sort out her very poor results in the shot and javelin.

You can look at every event and say “what if”. A few centimetres on a throw or a jump and a tenth of a second off a time and it could have been a different result.

But it was the javelin that really settled the result. Ennis-Hill did well with 46.06 but her rival’s 53.13 was immense.

Ennis-Hill finished with 6,775 points, just 35 adrift. To put her performance into perspective, it was more than 100 points in excess of her winning total in last year’s World Championships.

It seems likely that Rio will mark the end of Ennis-Hill’s career at international level. Neither is it likely that she will continue at a lower level winning Yorkshire and Northern titles and picking up points in league competition.

An intriguing question that will remain unanswered is: “How good could she have been had she concentrated on an individual event?”

She was a former UK record holder at the high jump and 100 hurdles, being true international standard at the latter.

The 400 hurdles is not part of the heptathlon and she has never run one. But, with her impeccable hurdling skill, her speed over 200 metres and her strength over 800 she would surely have done something very special, possibly the best ever. Now that is some thought!