Exclusive: Golden girl Jessica Ennis returns to the day job

Hurdles to clear: Jess Ennis. Pictures: John Giles/PA Wire.
Hurdles to clear: Jess Ennis. Pictures: John Giles/PA Wire.
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She’s our golden girl; the one that always makes us smile and feel proud, writes Richard Fidler.

Just think, in little over a year she’ll be winning Olympic heptathlon gold in London and we’ll all be cheering from the rooftops about how the Sheffield lass made it look so easy to beat the world.

For Jessica Ennis life is pretty straightforward, or so we think.

You see, unlike our football clubs she’s not in action every weekend. Every twist and turn of her daily training isn’t scrutinised by the media.

Sure, she gets more attention now than she did before winning the World Championship in 2009 and the European crown last year.

But it isn’t at the same level as, say, the Blades’ search for a new manager. We all think we understand football. Seven track and field events over two days? Not so much.

So that’s why when we think of Jess it’s all gold and smiles and awards and wow, didn’t she look great in that dress.

It’s never the early morning winter training sessions, the pain of physiotherapy or the constant quest to add precious centimetres to her throws and jumps.

And that’s why as her season begins with the competitive Hypo-Meeting in Gotzis, Austria, today Ennis, and those closest to her, are sounding a note of caution for her first real test since a tendon injury in her left leg meant she missed six weeks of training earlier this year.

Ennis wants to win and maintain her hold over her nearest rivals. But retaining her world title in Daegu, South Korea later this summer is the main priority and the Olympics overshadowing everything else.

She said: “I feel in good shape after the injury. I missed some training in the winter but I’ve had a couple of individual events since then so I’m ready to go.

“I have a points total in mind that I’d be happy with. I’m not telling you what it is though!”

There was a danger that Ennis could have skipped this event. Her long-time coach Toni Minichiello prefers two four-week training blocks before competing.

This time he has had two three-week blocks to get Ennis ready to take on a field that includes all the world’s best, except for American Hylees Fountain.

It was the athlete’s final decision to travel to Austria where a heptathlon defeat may come her way for the first time since the 2007 World Championship.

Ennis said it was important to get back into competing without worrying about the outcome: “I don’t think I ever want to take a step back.

“People put expectations on you and want to hang the medal round your neck but I know how much work I have to do. As long as I remember that I’ll be okay.

“Everyone wants to win. That’s what the other girls will be trying to do; I don’t think it’s a case of just wanting to beat me. Ultimately everyone has their eye on the World Championships though.”

This weekend will be a good judge of Ennis’s overall condition. Minichiello knows that winning the world title again the year before an Olympics is harder than the year after.

He said: “I always maintained that 2009 was a fallow year. Athletes have just come off an Olympic Games and aren’t in as good a shape.

“The levels (of performance) increase exponentially just before and during an Olympic year. Only one person has ever retained the world heptathlon title (Carolina Kluft) and I don’t think a British athlete has ever won back-to-back world titles.

“That is the level of achievement we’re talking about with Jess if she does do it in South Korea.”

Far be it for Ennis or Minichiello to be thinking negatively. Realism and hard work are what have got the former King Ecgbert and Sheffield University student to the pinnacle of her sport.

And those principles aren’t about to be forgotten now.

Taking part in individual events, as she did on the streets of Manchester or the Loughborough track, recently are all well and good. But the heptathlon is when she’s officially ‘at work’.

“I still get nervous before every event,” she said. “It does feel different doing heptathlons though, because that is what I do.

“Before hand I’m not really looking forward to it, but once I get the first event out of the way I enjoy it.”

Ennis enjoys winning as much as she hates the 800 metres, which is the seventh and final discipline of a heptathlon.

Whether she finishes the two-lap slog with that famous smile on her face tomorrow is open to debate.

Just know that there is a bigger picture to her career that we’ll all be witness to in 434 days. Only then will she accept that she’s truly our golden girl.