Jessica Ennis-Hill will compete in the heptathlon for the first time since those giddy, gold‑mining days of London 2012 after she declared her body fit and ready for the prestigious Hypo-Meeting in Götzis at the end of the month.
Her goals – nearly three years since her greatest triumph – will be smaller but no less single-minded. In Götzis she will not be gunning for victory, or even a podium position, against a stacked field but to score the 6,200 points required to make the qualifying standard for next year’s Rio Olympics. As her coach, Toni Minichiello, who professes himself very pleased with her comeback since the birth of her child, Reggie, last year, admits: “We wouldn’t be going there if we didn’t think we had a realistic shot of getting it.”
The decision to compete in Austria was taken after a short discussion between the pair on Monday. Minichiello asked how her achilles, which have niggled and hampered her in recent weeks, were feeling after competing in the long jump and javelin at the Loughborough International meeting on Sunday. Ennis‑Hill told him she felt fine. Minichiello then ran it past the medical team and sports scientists at the English Institute of Sport, who also gave their blessing. After a series of baby steps, Ennis-Hill had taken a giant leap forward on the comeback trail.
She clearly cannot wait to throw herself back in at the deep end. “The results I have had at the competitions over the past few weeks are promising and we believe it is feasible for me to do a full heptathlon and achieve the level of points I need to qualify for Rio,” Ennis-Hill says. “If I can achieve this early in the season it removes a real pressure and all the indicators are looking positive, so I plan to go to Götzis and give it my best shot.”
There is bound to be a stumble or two on the way. Minichiello admits that her high jump “will be interesting” given that she has hardly practised it this year because of how “destructive” it can be on the body.
However, the pair are hoping that a strong field in Götzis – which includes the Commonwealth champion, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the world bronze medallist Dafne Schippers, the two‑times European champion Antoinette Nana Djimou and Briton’s world junior champion, Morgan Lake – will turbo-boost Ennis-Hill’s competitive juices and thereby her points tally.
There are reasons for optimism. Her hurdles time of 13.14sec in the Manchester CityGames this month would score 1,103 in the heptathlon, while her long jump of 6.16m and javelin of 43.88m in Loughborough would be worth 899 and 742 points respectively. That would be a combined tally of 2,744 points from three events – leaving her needing 3,456 from the other four events she tackles in Götzis.
As Minichiello rightly points out, it is hard to judge those comeback performances in isolation because the demands of seven events over two days are so different.
“The hurdles is the one that is really comparable because you rock up to that one fresh,” he says. “But then there is a fatigue factor. Can you produce that long jump on day two having done four events on day one? Can you improve on the javelin? And can you top it off with an 800m?”
However, Minichiello, an arch realist as well as a deeper thinker, admits he is very pleased with what Ennis-Hill has already achieved since her comeback. “What I have never explained very well is how hard it is to return after having a baby,” he says. “Jess returned to training in November but she had to take such a limited approach. She couldn’t lift heavy weights because the abdominals were not fully knitted together after her pregnancy. She couldn’t do any twisting and turning and we had to wait three months before she could lift over her head.
“The other difficulty is that her body is more flexible than it was before,” he added. “In same cases that is a good thing but the lack of tendon tension is a bad one because she hasn’t yet got the jump speed that she had before. We have also had to tinker, to adapt and sometimes to back off because of soreness.”
On the back of such challenges, Minichiello agrees that the early stages of Ennis‑Hill’s comeback have been more impressive than many have given her credit for. “If you look at her physical shape it’s great,” he says. “People talk about distance runners returning quickly from pregnancy but they can instantly run and jog. They don’t need to propel an object from above their head. Or lift heavy weights. It took Jess six, seven or even eight months after giving birth to her son before she could do some things.
“Given all that, I am really pleased with the way she is returning and I am feeling quite positive about her being in a position to achieve the qualification for the Olympics.”
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