Jess Ennis: The Golden Girl Next Door (Preview)

Credit: Graham Hughes

"So, have you got some good questions for me then? I'm not going to answer any old rubbish you know," says Jess Ennis with a grin. Her agent raises her eyes to heaven and Ennis cackles, amused by her own bolshiness.

It's not the most conventional way to start an interview but, as is soon apparent, if there's one thing the multi-talented 25-year-old athlete doesn't do with aplomb, it's dull.

We've just met at St Pancras station in London. Jess has arrived by train from her home in Sheffield and is on her way to a photo shoot. Such is the immense pressure on the time of GB's top hope for a 2012 athletics gold these days, that I've been allotted a 40-minute slot with her in a taxi - neatly squeezed into the time it takes to travel between venues.                                                     

It's lesson number one in how to cram seemingly impossible demands into your life, and it makes me think that maybe I'm not going to need to skip today's lunchtime speedwork session after all.

Pure athleticism

Which brings me neatly on to exactly why RW has secured some of the heptathlon queen's ever more precious time. Ennis is undoubtedly a great runner - her track times bear testament to that - but her event demands more than just speed on her feet. It demands complete, full-body, 360-degree athleticism.

And the secrets of achieving that goal can deliver both the physical foundations that will boost your running and the psychological focus and organisational know-how to fit the requisite training into a busy life. Or, to put it another way, you don't have to be overly concerned about your shot putting to learn a thing or two from this particular world champion.  

A champion multi-tasker
To add yet another talent to the list, Ennis proves disarmingly good company. She's completely at ease with the rather odd taxi-crammed situation, managing simultaneously to wedge her suitcase against the door with a firm knee, absently wave my Dictaphone around like a conductor's baton as she speaks, chew on a mammoth sandwich and answer questions with a refreshing lack of forethought. All very much befitting a world champion multi-tasker.

And whether she's discussing her medal collection, her meteoric rise to the top of her field or her status as poster girl for the London Olympics, she is consistently matter of fact and grounded.

"I hate it when people are all in your face with their achievements, saying 'Oh I'm brilliant at this or that,'" she says. "Obviously confidence is really important in life, as is self-belief - and sometimes in athletics you do have to big yourself up. But it's also about being realistic, recognising where you've come from and that you have to keep working hard."

The accolades

The work ethic that Ennis has displayed since her parents (Alison, a social worker, and Vinnie, a painter and decorator) first took a 10-year-old Jess to an athletics summer camp as a boredom-busting tactic has paid off in spades.

In 2009 she claimed heptathlon gold in the World Championships in Berlin, before taking a medal in the same desirable shade at the World Indoor Champs in Doha, Qatar, a year later. Last summer also saw her become European champion in Barcelona, bagging a new championship heptathlon record of 6,823 points in the process.

She could therefore be forgiven for allowing herself the occasional pat on the back with her javelin-free hand. It's clear, though, that the focus that has taken her to such heights so far also prevents complacency setting in.

Humble attitude

"Sometimes I do have the odd moment where I pinch myself and think, 'Gosh, I'm double world champion and European champion.' But the feeling goes quickly, because the second you start dwelling on past glories is when you begin to lose concentration. Each time you win, your competitors leave that arena determined to work harder to beat you next time. So you've got to work harder, too. Everybody is constantly stepping it up."

From a world-beating athlete, this all sounds surprisingly 'normal'. And such normality extends to the heat of competition where, despite her domination of the heptathlon, Ennis confesses to bouts of pre-event nerves.

"It sounds crazy because I've done well recently, but that stuff doesn't make the nerves go away. If anything, it makes it a bit worse because once you've won one thing people expect you to go on winning. They think you've got it cracked, but you haven't," she admits.

Pre-race nerves

So how does she beat anxiety? "I normally get nervous before the whole event starts, so I get my headphones on, zone out and visualise every stage of what I'm about to do. That calms me down. But as the competition progresses and the stakes get higher, you get these thoughts in your head: 'What if things go wrong?'"

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Discover the seven-step plan from Jess' coach Tony Minichiello that'll transform your running.