Hunger still strong for Ennis-Hill


Published: Saturday 9th May 2015 by The News Editor

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Jessica Ennis-Hill has warned her rivals her hunger for success remains as strong as ever ahead of her long-awaited return to the sport.

The Olympic heptathlon champion will make her comeback over 100 metres hurdles in Manchester on Saturday, 22 months on from her last race.

In that time the 29-year-old has given birth to son Reggie, who is now nine months old, and seen her life – and priorities – change completely.

She has also witnessed the coronation of a new queen of multi-eventing in 22-year-old compatriot Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

The Liverpool athlete will also be in action at the Great CityGames, on a purpose-built track on Deansgate in the city centre, competing in the 200m hurdles in her first race since winning pentathlon gold, and breaking Ennis-Hill’s British record, at the European Indoor Championships in Prague in March.

Now a mother, with a gold medal from a home Olympics already on the mantelpiece and a younger rival approaching the peak of her powers, Ennis-Hill could be forgiven if her competitive instinct had been dimmed.

But the Sheffield athlete was having none of it.

She said: “We’re in totally different parts of our careers and our journeys are different as well. But our motivations, inspirations and focuses are totally different.

“People keep asking me, ‘Are you still competitive?’ And I think I’ll always be competitive. I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t. I would have just stayed at home and done something else.

“Although our focus and motivations are different, I think we’re both very hungry. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Ennis-Hill, who returned to training in November, admitted she would be getting “stuck in at the deep end” in Manchester, up against American world champion Brianna Rollins, Great Britain team-mate and European champion Tiffany Porter and compatriot Lucy Hatton, the European indoor silver medallist over 60m hurdles.

Ennis-Hill, who will compete in front of her son and an expected crowd of 25,000 spectators, knows she is stepping into the unknown.

The hurdles is her strongest event, but minor Achilles niggles have hampered her training, although she said the problem had “settled down a lot”.

She was, though, fully aware of the possibility she could finish last – and was not fazed by it.

“I’ve always been that kind of athlete,” she said.

“I’d rather race against the best and see where I am. I’m getting in better shape than I was, but it’s not clear where I am just yet.”

Friday was the first time Ennis-Hill and Johnson-Thompson had seen each other since the former’s last competition, the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium in July 2013.

At that time Johnson-Thompson was still very much the rising star and her progress since has proved a source of inspiration – and motivation – for Ennis-Hill.

“It definitely is because you can’t just be settled and be comfortable with where you are,” she said.

“I’ll always have to be pushing myself. So I think it is good to have that domestic rivalry. And in my mind, I’ve always known that as an athlete, you climb your way to the top, you get there – and someone will climb their way to the top and knock you off.

“That’s sport. That’s what happens. It’s a good thing. It makes you want to go out there and be the best.”

The pair are not in opposition this weekend, but things are expected to hot up significantly when they do go head to head in the heptathlon in Gotzis at the end of the month.

Johnson-Thompson remains in awe of the team-mate she saw storm to glory – and whose performance prompted tears of pride – at London 2012.

“It’s been a crazy couple of years and I’m glad I’ve progressed the way I have,” she said, speaking alongside Ennis-Hill.

“I’m fully expecting you to come back and take your place.

“Going into this year, it’s going to be different after getting that European medal and the record. It’s strange to think that people aren’t just trying to catch up Jess, but me as well.”

The European pentathlon crown was Johnson-Thompson’s first senior gold medal of her career, but was greeted with tears of disappointment and frustration as she fell agonisingly short of breaking the world record.

“It took a lot for me to get over Prague emotionally and mentally,” she said.

“But it’s all about Beijing (the World Championships in August) for me and I want to do the steady progression, instead of coming out at the start of the season, like last year, and tailing off at the end.”

Published: Saturday 9th May 2015 by The News Editor

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