Jessica Ennis is the emerging star of women’s Heptathlon in Great Britain, a country with a proud recent tradition in this discipline following the Olympic gold medal won by Denise Lewis in Sydney 2000 and the bronze medal of Kelly Sotherton four years later in Athens.
On the weekend of 5 / 6 May 2007, Ennis, 21, a university student of psychology from Sheffield, won the Multistars IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in the northern Italian town of Desenzano del Garda with a personal best of 6388 points. Her total broke Denise Lewis’ British under 23 record of 6325 points set in 1994.
Ennis won four events (100m Hurdles, High Jump, 200m and Long Jump) and finished second in the 800 metres. In the process she improved her PBs in the hurdles (13.12), in High Jump (1.95) and in the Long Jump (6.40).
Attempts at 1.98m
Particularly impressive was her 1.95 clearance which equalled the British High Jump record for the individual event, a bar which is 30cm above her head. Ennis’ clearance improved Desenzano meeting record by four centimetres, a mark which had been held by this year’s European Indoor silver medallist Antonietta Di Martino from Italy who began with combined events before turning successfully to the individual event.
Ennis made three attempts at 1.98, indicating that this height maybe within her reach in the near future… “Jumping 1.95 was amazing. I feel ‘over the moon’. Hopefully I can jump 1.98 next time. I am pleased that a new PB came out in the 100 metres hurdles,” said a delighted Ennis in Desenzano.
Scoring 6388 points the young Briton set the current world season’s best and achieved the qualifying standards for 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in both the Heptathlon and High Jump.
“It was absolutely brilliant this weekend. I would have been happy to score 6100 points. I have trained hard over the winter. It has come together this weekend.”
She also qualified for the 100m Hurdles and Long Jump at July’s European Under-23 Championships in Debrecen (Hungary).
“I will compete in the European Cup for Combined Events next July, which will my only Heptathlon before Osaka (World Champs). In Debrecen I will take part in the High Jump and in the 100m Hurdles”, said Ennis about her summer plans.
In June Ennis will focus entirely on athletics after graduating in psychology at Sheffield University. “It is quite hard to combine athletics and university exams. But this summer I will become a full-time athlete and will focus entirely on my sport.”
Ennis emerged during the 2005 summer when she won the European Junior title in the Heptathlon in Riga and a World University Games bronze medal in Izmir. The following year she won a surprising Commonwealth Games bronze medal in Melbourne with a PB of 6269 points in a competition won by her compatriot Kelly Sotherton. Later in the year she improved her career best to 6287 points when she finished eighth in Gothenburg.
During the 2007 indoor season Ennis showed her dramatic improvement when she finished sixth at the European Indoor Championships at ‘home’ in Birmingham in one of the best indoor pentathlon competitions in history which featured a duel between Sweden’s World and Olympic Heptathlon champion Carolina Klüft and Sotherton. In the packed Birmingham National Indoor Arena Ennis improved her PB from 4401 to 4716 points winning the high jump with 1.91 and running the 60 metres hurdles with 8.22.
“It was nice to compete in front of enthusiastic home crowd. The atmosphere was amazing. Kelly Sotherton performed very well. She will come out in the summer and score other PBs. It would be nice to be nearer to her”, said Ennis of the domestic rivalry against Sotherton.
Italian coaching origins
Ennis began with athletics when she was 10 during a summer camp called StarTrack in which she showed her talent in many disciplines. Her first coach was former heptathlete Nicola Minichiello who turned to winter sports and took part in the Winter Olympic Games in Turin where she competed in bobsled. Minichiello trained Jessica for one year but at the age of 13 Ennis began her training relationship with Nicola’s husband Tony, a British coach of Italian origin.
In the competition in Desenzano del Garda, Ennis received strong support from her grandparents who are her first fans. “My grandparents support me a lot and follow me in many meetings.”
“I am the only person in my family who does sport. My younger sister is 18-years-old but she does not like sport very much. I am now busy with my sport and university and I have no time for my hobbies. But I like going out with my boyfriend, my friends and listening to hip-hop music.”
Ennis leads a new generation of British athletes who are pursuing their dream to compete at the Olympic Games in London 2012. “I will be at the peak of my career when the Olympic Games come to London. It will be brilliant to compete in front of home crowd. Hopefully I will be able to pick-up a medal there,” said Ennis.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF