Tag Archives: Athletics

Jessica Ennis-Hill: A tribute to a sensational sportswoman

One of the greatest ever...all rights are reserved for this image ©

One of the greatest ever…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

There was always hope that she would turn out one last time at the World Championships in London in 2017. Hope that we would see that beaming smile one last time as she crossed the finish line, winning yet another medal.

As is the way with every sporting legend, we want to see them in action one more time. Ennis-Hill has shown tremendous courage and determination in her career, and showed the same traits in announcing her retirement.

There is always the temptation to go on, but retiring at the top is an incredibly brave thing to do. 1 Olympic Gold, 1 Olympic Silver, 2 World Championship Golds, 1 World Championship Silver, 1 World Indoor Gold, 1 European Gold and a Commonwealth Bronze. Not bad at all.

She is an inspiration for so many. For every fan watching, she went from being ‘Jessica Ennis’ to being ‘Our Jess’. She captured the hearts and minds of millions around the country.

Millions were shouting at the TV urging her on in the 800 metres at Rio, believing she could pull off a miracle and win gold. She gave it everything she had but missed out on gold, winning silver. We were disappointed, but still saw her smiling and showing incredible grace toward  Nafissatou Thiam, the gold medallist. The nation fell in love with Ennis-Hill years before, but this just reaffirmed why she is held in such high esteem by many. Being a gracious winner and a gracious loser is never easy, yet it came naturally to Ennis-Hill.

She is arguably the most complete all-round athlete this country has seen for a very long time. The most talented multi-event athlete. She was not just good. She was great. Ennis-Hill was at various times the best in the country at several events. The best at high jump and long jump, world class in the hurdles and a fine sprinter. Despite her small stature, she was excellent at the shot-put and even managed to jump a whole foot bigger than her own height. A rare feat.

Being the best was not easy. Ennis-Hill is also perhaps the toughest and most mentally strong athlete this country has produced. Most sports fans in this country only tune in for the big events, so we often fail to see just how hard our athletes truly work.

The gruelling morning sessions in the Sheffield cold and rain. Struggling through stress fractures to relearn technique. She was ruled out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of a stress fracture, meaning she had to switch her take off foot for the long jump from right to left.

That did not deter her, she ended up as world and Olympic champion within 4 years.

Every single person who has seen her train has said the same thing. They were left shocked at just how intense her sessions were. The continuous sprints, skips, jumps, throws, weight sessions and 800m training. All of this done day after day.

Ennis-Hill most certainly is made of ‘Sheffield Steel’.

Yet behind the on-track steel, there has been a role-model who is perhaps the nicest athlete around. It is easy for elite athletes to stay inside the bubble, but Ennis-Hill has been an inspiration through her actions. Her role as a Sky Sports living ambassador has helped boost the confidence of so many young people.

She has accepted and endured all that comes with fame and high level sport with a grace and humility that so many could and should learn. Did she ever claim it was easy to get back into shape after her pregnancy? No. She talked often about how tough it was and just how much work she had to put in.

She had doubts about her own powers to return. Even Olympic champions have doubts. We do not hear that much from any champion, but ‘Our Jess’ has always been real in a world of artificialness.

She has always stayed true to her roots. There has always been a feeling that she is just one of us.

In a world of TOWIE and Kardashians, Ennis-Hill provides the example for young women everywhere. She has always projected a healthy body image and has made athletics and exercise cool again. She became a world champion again, just 13 months after giving birth to baby boy Reggie. An Olympic silver came in Rio the following year. Spirit and toughness. 

It is that toughness and spirit which sets Ennis-Hill apart from the rest. Never fazed under pressure and always believing in her abilities in competition. It sounds simple enough, but it is much harder to showcase.

Going into London 2012, she was the face of the games. Did she crumble under the pressure? Of course not, she came out with a Gold medal that will forever be remembered.

Credit must also go to her coach, Toni Minichiello, who was a huge part of the success Ennis-Hill achieved. He drove her on and his skill can be seen in the way they approached her comeback from pregnancy.  A new statistic to measure her improbable but remarkable return known as PPPB, or post-pregnancy personal best.

It is perhaps fitting that Ennis-Hill’s surge to the top has coincided with the surge of women’s sport. We are seeing more attention and more funding being given to women in sport. It is not just about what the men do now. Ennis-Hill amongst others have helped drive women’s sport to the top.

She has never been afraid to speak her mind on controversial issues. Whether it be a sexist comment by an idiot from British Athletics or speaking out about Ched Evans despite the online threats from trolls, Ennis-Hill has shown her courage and determination is not limited to athletics.

We are currently in a time when success in athletics and sports in general is questioned vociferously. In a world of doping, Ennis-Hill has emerged as a shining line a tainted world.

London 2012 will inevitably will be what Ennis-Hill is remembered for. Her role as the heartbeat of ‘Super Saturday’.

She is an inspiration for women, for the ethnic minority, for all of us. Britain has been lucky to have her. We could all learn from Our Jess.


Rio 2016: Olympics Review

A historic games in Rio…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

A historic games. For many reasons. Despite all of the problems before and during the games, the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro was truly spectacular.

The final games for so many sporting greats. From Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps. From Mo Farah to Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Across the 28 different sports at Rio 2016, there were some outstanding performances which captured the eye of the worldwide audience. The lack of crowds cannot take away from the high level skill displayed by Olympians.

The archery saw South Korean domination with 4 Gold medals, the most of any nation. The athletics as expected was centred around the big name athletes, but the emergence and achievements of the newer athletes was also commendable.

Team USA dominated in the track and field with 13 Gold medals and 31 medals overall, winning in events not renowned for US dominance.  Matthew Centrowitz Jr won in the 1500m. Gold for Kerron Clement and Dalilah Muhammad in the 400m hurdles. A Silver medal in the 5000m for Paul Kipkemoi Chelimo and for Evan Jager in the 3,000m Men’s Steeplechase. A Bronze medal for  Galen Rupp in the marathon and Jennifer Simpson in the 1500m. An outstanding achievement.

Yet the focus of track and field was on the big hitters. The superstars that make us jump up and scream at our television sets. Usain Bolt cemented his position as an immortal in sport completing his triple triple. Mo Farah was able to fall down and still win his 3rd and 4th Olympic Gold medals.

Wayde van Niekerk smashed Michael Johnson’s 400m World Record in what was perhaps the most memorable moment of track and field. Maybe only surpassed by the atmosphere generated by the Men’s Pole Vault. Thiago Braz da Silva produced a spectacular Gold medal performance which created an atmosphere unmatched for the rest of the games.

Jessica Ennis-Hill produced an inspirational performance to gain Silver in the Heptathlon, narrowly missing out on a title defending Gold. For someone who just gave birth 2 years ago, this was a spectacular performance. Her words and tears told us it was her last Olympic Games. Her achievements will live on forever.

The Badminton saw a valiant effort by India’s P.V Sindhu against World Number 1 Carolina Marin to achieve India’s highest ever medal (Silver) in Badminton.  It was a high quality final worthy of any Olympics.

Brazil reached the final of the beach volleyball in both the men’s and women’s competition, with the men being able to go one step further and win the Gold medal on a super night on Copacabana Beach.

Uzbekistan were the surprise leaders in the boxing with 3 Gold medals. Nicola Adams  from Team GB made history retaining her title from London 2012. However, it was the controversy around results which made the headlines. Inadequate and deceitful scoring from the judges robbed people of matches, most notably Michael Conlan.

The cycling was, as expected, dominated by Team GB with 6 Gold Medals, with every member of the track cycling team winning a medal. They broke record after record and left rival countries scratching their heads, confusing them to such an extent that some had the cheek to question the integrity and honesty of the cyclists.

Sir Bradley Wiggins made history, winning his 5th Gold Medal in the Men’s Team Pursuit, alongside Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Owain Doull.

Laura Trott continued her dominance with a Gold in the Women’s Team Pursuit alongside Joanna Rowsell, Katie Archibald, Ciara Horne and Elinor Barker, and another Gold in the Women’s Omnium, making her a 4x Olympic Champion – the most of any British female.

The happiness continued for Trott in the form of her fiancée Jason Kenny. Kenny won his 4th Gold Medal in the Men’s Team Sprint, his 5th in the Individual Men’s Sprint and his record equalling 6th Gold Medal in the Men’s Keirin. Kenny is Britain’s most successful Olympian alongside Sir Chris Hoy.

Mark Cavendish won Silver in the Men’s Omnium and the first time Olympians of Callum Skinner, Rebecca James and Katy Marchant also won medals, showing the quality in depth of British cycling.

On the road, Chris Froome followed up his Bronze in London with another Bronze in Rio. It seems the exertions of the Tour de France hampered him in his quest for Gold.

The Diving enthralled as ever, although the mystery of the green pool perhaps took centre stage. China dominated the Diving pool with 7 Gold Medals, an outstanding performances. It was a mixed competition for Team GB with a wonderful Gold for Jack Laugher and Chris Mears in the Men’s 3m Springboard Synchronisation. Another Bronze for Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow in the 10m Synchronisation was good, yet Daley’s shock elimination in the semi-finals of the individual competition will be his overriding memory of the games.

The Equestrian was a closely fought battle between Germany, France and Great Britain. The overriding memory for Team GB will be the record breaking third Gold medal for Charlotte Dujardin, cementing her status as the most dominating rider of the era. A Gold for Nick Skeleton at the age of 58 showed that age has no barriers in the Olympics.

Great Britain’s Women achieved a shock Gold medal in the Hockey, beating the best team of the last few years in Netherlands. Team GB were dominated but did not give up, mainly due to the heroics of goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, who put in a performance of a lifetime which will forever go down in history. Not only did she keep her team in the game in normal time, but she was the hero in the penalty shootout. Perhaps the best goalkeeping performance in the history of British sport.

A first time Olympics for the sport of Golf raised many eyebrows, with the top 4 players in the world pulling out citing health concerns – a pathetic excuse to be quite frank. Yet the performance and passion of Justin Rose showed just how much this meant. He had been pumped up for the Olympics from the start, with a one track focus on winning a medal. He did more than that, he won Gold and he has inspired many youngsters to pick up a golf club for the first time. It was an enthralling final round between him and the in form player in the world, Henrik Stenson. To win, Rose had to, to quote Rose, “out-Stenson, Stenson”.

The Gymnastics captured the attention of almost everyone watching the Olympics. Whether it was the extraordinary in Simone Biles, the outrageous death-defying moves of Dipa Karmakar or the sublime of Max Whitlock, this was an outstanding Gymnastics competition. A competition dominated by the United States and Great Britain. A special mention to Amy Tinkler, who at 16 won Bronze. A summer of doing her GCSEs and then winning Bronze. Not bad at all.

Brazil saw something it craved for a long time. It won a competition on home soil. Gold in the Men’s Football. Led by Neymar, it was not pretty but it was very effective. The Maracana was heaving, it was loud, it was excited and it was everything a crowd should be for the Olympics. Football was always guaranteed a large following by the Brazilian public.

The Rowing saw a battle between Great Britain and Germany, with Team GB narrowly topping the medals table with 3 Golds. It is always exciting to watch the Rowing, watching the pain of competition on the faces of the rowers, who are giving every last sinew to achieve a medal. Cancellations due to rough winds and waves did not help the rowers, but ultimately, the competition delivered as it usually does.

The swimming was dominated by Michael Phelps and Team USA, as expected. It is a thing of marvel watching Phelps. His dedication to his craft and his performances under pressure say a lot about the most successful Olympian in history. A man who won 2 Gold medals within 70 minutes of one another. An awe-inspiring Olympian and sportsman.

Yet it was not just about Phelps. Katie Ledecky is the finest female swimmer I have ever seen, and she is only 19. World record after world record, gold medal after gold medal, she is relentless. She has raised the bar to a level that not many will ever reach. She carries the same sense of inevitability of victory that Phelps and Bolt do.

Team GB saw excellent success in the pool, competing and winning medals. Jazz Carlin is a 2x Silver medalist –  behind Ledecky both times. Adam Peaty is a world record holder and a Gold medalist. Britain have a real star in Peaty,- a star who even Phelps is impressed by- they must make sure he is given everything to dominate. A number of 4th place finishes shows there is potential, but there has to enough funding and work done to convert the 7 forth place finishes to medals.

Taekwondo saw Team GB’s Jade Jones cement her place as one of the greatest of all time. The ‘Head-Hunter’ retained her title from London 2012, and in some style, beating her opponents with ease. Team GB also won Silver thanks to Lutalo Muhammed, although he should have won Gold, leading with just 1 second left on the clock. He will forever remember to keep his focus. A Bronze thanks to Bianca Walkden shows the potential of Team GB in Taekwondo.

Andy Murray retained his Gold from London to become the first man to win 2 Olympic Gold Medals in tennis. An extraordinary final vs Juan Martin del Potro was a fitting end to a captivating competition. Del Potro seems to be back to his best, unleashing that vicious forehand which accounted for Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, and gave Murray an almighty scare.

The domination of the Brownlee brothers in the Triathlon continued, with Alastair winning Gold and Johnny winning Silver. It is a gruelling event and the domination of the Brownlee’s is a testament to the hard work and sacrifice they have put in.

There was a lot of negative media coverage about Rio before the games. From water quality to Zika to doping to corruption to infrastructure problems to security concerns. Ultimately, as with any sporting competition, once the competition begins, everything else goes to the back.

Watching Bolt and Phelps gives us joy that talking about a green pool does not.

The economic problems that currently beset most of Brazil right now will remain past the Olympics. The 2 week carnival provides a temporary escape, but not permanent relief. The problems there before, will remain after.

Elsewhere, the Olympic Games provide a relief for the rest of us. In a post-Brexit vote world, where there is so much division, the Olympics spark unity.

It may only be once every 4 years for us spectators, but those 2 weeks every 4 years are something special to cherish.