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.