Monday, March 8, 2010

Jessica Ennis ready for Doha

Britain's performance at this week's World Indoor Championships in Doha will be measured not by the quantity of medals, according to head coach Charles van Commenee, but by the way individual athletes are able to improve on their showing at last summer's outdoor World Championships.

Flying high: Jessica Ennis hopes to carry her spectacular January form into the World Indoor Athletics Championships Photo: PA

Spare a thought, then, for Jessica Ennis, whose outdoor world heptathlon title was achieved by a massive 238-point margin in Berlin and who made the Beijing gold medallist, Nataliya Dobrynska, look ordinary by comparison. Just how do you top that?

It is the kind of question Ennis knows she will have to grapple with all the way to the London 2012 Olympics so long as she maintains her upward trajectory

Just how good can she be? Can she emulate the great Swede, Carolina Kluft, and dominate the multi-events scene for years, winning every major championship title indoors and outdoors? Can she even break world records?

"I know you cannot win everything," Ennis says modestly. "That is setting yourself a really high goal. But I hope to be in the top five at major championships and I hope to win a medal. It is all about maintaining fitness and staying injury free and I hope I can do that up to 2012."

The desire to dampen down expectation is understandable from a 24 year-old who is already being talked about as the heroine of 2012, the equivalent of Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Sydney Games, although is hard to believe that anything less than gold in Saturday's pentathlon competition would satisfy her ambition.

A second world title would remove any suspicion that her victory in Berlin owed as much to the under-performance of others as to her own brilliance and would confirm her as the new, true queen of the all-rounders.

This time all three medallists from the Beijing Olympics will be lining up against her – Dobyrnska, Hyleas Fountain of the United States, who missed Berlin after injuring herself at the national trials, and Russia's Tatyana Chernova. The latter was a shadow of herself in Berlin, finishing in eighth place, but has bounced back this season with a world-leading pentathlon score of 4,855.

Given that Ennis's previous best is 4,716, albeit from 2007 when she last contested a five-event indoor competition, the Sheffield athlete will need to be at her best to win. She was just that in her season-opening appearance in Glasgow in January when she broke the British
60 metres hurdles record and surpassed her indoor lifetime best in the high jump.

But her preparations have been hampered by a ligament strain in her right foot, which forced her to pull out of the UK trials and the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix last month and to take time off from high-impact training. She insists, though, that she is now in perfect condition.

"I know that I am in good shape and I have my own realistic goals," she says. "I know the way training has been going and I have set myself targets for each event." A victory would enhance her status as the brightest star in British athletics, though it would also bring even higher levels of expectation in the run-up to 2012.

Van Commenee, who coached Denise Lewis to heptathlon glory at the Sydney Olympics, is considering asking Freeman to talk to Ennis about how to handle the pressure. "Very few athletes have ever experienced having the role of the favourite in the home Olympics," he says. "That will require a special approach and special attention because that might be something that gets in the way."

Ennis is happy to accept any help that is going, though she does not plan to get too caught up in the psychology. "Speaking to people who have been through it all and experienced it all and can pass on some good words of advice is definitely worth doing," she says.

"But the more I keep talking about it and worrying about it, the more it will be in the forefront of my mind. If I block it out and get on with what I am doing, I think that is the best way forward." Sensible, single-minded stuff from a young woman who knows which way she is heading. Straight to the top of the podium.