STEVEN DOWNES says that SJA members ought not take Jessica Ennis-Hill for granted – 2015 was her toughest year, and possibly her best yet
There are some things, and some people, we really should never take for granted.
There are some true sporting greats who, after being just so good for so long, the public, and we sports journalists, somehow just “zone out” and don’t pay attention to enough or give them the credit they deserve.They become like the proverbial prophet in their own land. I hope we’re not going to do that with Jessica Ennis-Hill in 2015 by overlooking her compelling claim to be named SJA Sportswoman of the Year for a record-equalling fourth time.
After all, the new mum who regained her heptathlon world title did describe 2015 as her “hardest year ever”.
The general public still doesn’t quite get multi-events, even though here in Britain, over the past 40 years, we have been spoiled – there we go, taking them for granted again – with such multi-talents as Daley Thompson, Denise Lewis and, now, Jess Ennis-Hill.
The title “the world’s greatest all-round athlete” is one of those easy journalistic tropes which is readily dolled out for the top decathlete or heptathlete. It is not always altogether true, as former mile world record-holder Steve Ovett famously said when arguing the merits of Jack-of-all-trades Thompson, the multi-event was really “just nine Mickey Mouse events followed by a slow 1,500”.
Ennis-Hill showed at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in the sweaty heat of Beijing, a two-day competition in all-round athletic excellence is often more a test of endurance, sheer will and of who can make the fewest mistakes. In Beijing, as her rivals were missing jumps and losing their nerve, Ennis-Hill regained the world title with what amounted to a flawless display.
The Sheffield 29-year-old had been out of the sport for the best part of two years, after her apogee at the London Games, to become a mother for the first time. She had originally intended for 2015 to be a “transition” year, to prepare her for the defence of her Olympic title in Rio de Janeiro.
Indeed, she only decided to accept her selection for Beijing just four weeks before the starter fired his gun for her first event, the 100 metres hurdles. Ennis-Hill was only ever meant to be a supporting act this time round, maybe picking up a bronze medal along the way.
But over the next 36 hours or so, through a high jump competition which resembled a shoot-out at the OK Corral between the leading contenders, a steady shot put and 200m sprint which saw her out-run her wearying rivals, Ennis-Hill got stronger and more confident with each passing phase.
Ennis-Hill’s psychological strength, her utter determination, is actually quite ruthless. In that respect, she is closer than any multi-eventer to Daley Thompson, who in his pomp drew strength in himself from facing down the challenge that the best in the world could throw at him.
So when her team mate and outside bet for the gold, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, crashed and burned in her best discipline, the long jump, on the morning of the second day, Ennis-Hill offered a consoling arm to the younger woman and then blinkered herself and drove on to the gold.
Javelin? No mistakes. The 800 metres: she sprinted across the line first, leaving her last standing challenger, world No1 Brianne Theisen Eaton of Canada, to collapse in a pool of perspiration at her feet.
“This time last year I’d just had my son and now I am world champion. It’s just an incredible feeling,” Ennis-Hill said.
“This has been the hardest year ever. Going into London for the Olympics was hard, with different pressures and challenges in that respect. But this year, juggling all my ‘mummy duties’ and training … everything has been so hard.
“But it’s been the most amazing year as well because I’ve got my son and now I’m here on a global stage with a world title again, which is just amazing.”
Mum’s the word, but under the circumstances, Beijing 2015 was probably her greatest performance. Doesn’t that deserve your vote?
- Steven Downes is a former editor of Athletics Weekly and athletics correspondent for the Sunday Times who wrote on the 2015 Beijing world championships for Reuters. He is secretary of the SJA
- AP McCOY: Jon Ryan on the champion jockey’s claim to your vote
- THE MURRAYS: Barry Newcombe on Britain’s Davis Cup efforts
- LEEDS RHINOS: Andy Elliott has them charging for the Team of the Year title
- Who do you think deserves SJA members’ votes for Sportsman, Sportswoman or Team of the Year? Send your pitch – no more than 400 words – to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “SJA Sports Awards” in the subject field, and we may publish it here
- VOTING IS NOW OPEN FOR SJA MEMBERS for the 2015 SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery. For more information, and to cast your vote, click here
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- This year, the SJA’s nominated good cause is The Journalists’ Charity. To find out more and how you can donate on a one-off or regular basis, go to www.journalistscharity.org.uk
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Tue Dec 1: Young sports journalists’ networking drinks – Details to be announced