dare to DREAM, BECAUSE THEY DO COME TRUE
Jessica Ennis-Hill doubts she'll ever top her heptathlon gold at last year's London Olympics, but that won't stop her always aiming high – and working towards another trip to the top podium, writes Alison O'Riordan
Published 07/11/2013 | 21:30
It's been more than a year since heptathlon champion and golden girl Jessica Ennis-Hill took gold at the London Olympics. Yet the memories and sentiments of that fateful day in August last year are never far from her mind.
"The emotions when I crossed that finish line were of disbelief and relief as well as shock and excitement," she says.
"I was really shocked because I have competed in a lot of competitions in the past where things go wrong, and one can be in great shape but one doesn't always win, so having everything come together for me was incredible."
Of the 541 athletes who made up Team GB for London 2012, no one had more pressure and expectation placed on their shoulders to come up with the goods than the Sheffield athlete.
"In the whole lead-up to the Games, everyone was saying I would win, and to actually have done it on those two days was amazing."
But how exactly has life changed for the British track and field star who became an Olympic gold medallist?
"I woke up the next day and couldn't believe I had won," she says.
"I was still so tired and exhausted from competing and mentally with the whole run-up to the Games.
"It's been good fun doing different things. Life is different in the respect that people notice you more, but other than that, I still live in Sheffield and still have the same people around me."
The 27-year-old was introduced to athletics in the summer of 1996 by her parents, Vinnie and Alison, from Jamaica and England respectively, who took her and her sister, Carmel to a summer sports camp event at Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium when the sporty youngster was only 10.
"Athletics wasn't in my background. My parents just did it at school, but nothing beyond that," she says.
Around that time, Jessica met her full-time coach, Toni Minichiello, who she has been with ever since.
"I fell into heptathlon, meeting my coach 14 years ago, and he coached combined events like heptathlon and decathlon. He was like, 'try this and give it a go', and I stuck with it from there," she says.
A heptathlon is a track and field combined-events contest made up of seven events, with the first four contested on the first day and the remaining three on day two.
It consists of 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m.
The hurdles are Jessica's favourite of the seven disciplines.
"Hurdles are definitely one of my strongest events, and I suppose you are most interested in the events that you are good at," she says. "I really enjoy competing in the hurdles individually as well as in the heptathlon."
Growing up, Jessica soon went on to harbour dreams of becoming an Olympic champion.
She says: "I had always dreamt as a young athlete of putting on the Olympic jersey and getting involved in athletics. I wanted to get to an Olympics. I dreamt of winning an Olympic gold medal, but you never know if it is ever going to happen."
Looking up to the sporting prowess and achievements of fellow Briton Denise Lewis, who won a gold medal in the heptathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics; and Sweden's Carolina Kluft, who won the Olympic heptathlon title in 2004 in Athens, only fuelled Jessica's ambition further.
From the age of 15, athletics became her sole focus.
"I put everything else aside and said I would go for it," she says. "It was a gradual thing, and I knew then I wanted to make world championships and Olympics."
So what are the key ingredients to becoming a top athlete?
"The components it takes to be an Olympic gold medallist are a lot of time. One has to be very patient and learn your sport and allow time to practise and get good at it," says Jessica.
"It's focus and dedication, too, putting everything to one side and working on that one thing to improve on it."
"One needs to have goals and things you are working towards as well. A lot of sacrifices were made along the way, too, but obviously 100pc worth it for that gold medal."
Unfortunately, injury is part and parcel of any elite athlete's career, and Jessica is currently not running due to an Achilles tendon injury – a common injury affecting professional athletes.
This same injury also meant she could not compete in the world championships in Moscow last August.
She says: "I couldn't defend my world championship because I injured my Achilles at the beginning of the season in June. So we tried for the next few weeks to manage the pain and prepare and do what I could to be ready and be there, but it wasn't enough time to get it to where it needed to be, so I'm still recovering from it now.
"Obviously, as an athlete, you don't want to miss any competitions or championships. Having had such a big year last year, it's disappointing not to be able to compete and do what I knew I could have done this year, especially after I had done all my training and really prepared for it. It's very frustrating."
Undergoing rehab at the moment due to her injury setback, Jessica's regime consists of running sessions in the pool and bike and strength sessions.
Having had the biggest high of her career with her Olympic triumph, will it be impossible in future events to top this?
"I think that will definitely be the highlight; it will be very difficult to top that," she says.
"Winning an Olympic gold medal is what I have always wanted to do and what I have worked so hard for, then having the opportunity to do it in London – I never thought that would ever happen, so it will be very hard to top it, but now I have to focus on other goals within my event.
"After the Olympics, I did find it hard to get motivated again as I had achieved everything I ever wanted to achieve.
"However, at the same time, it's part of my life, it's who I am, and I feel there is a little bit more that I want to achieve.
"I don't know what I would do if I retired early, so I definitely want to keep training and competing."
Jessica's short-term goals include getting back to full fitness and preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next July. It is the third-biggest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics and the Asian Games.
Longer term, she wants to be competing at the next world championships in 2015 in Beijing, and then the Brazil Olympics in Rio in 2016.
She says: "I'll be aiming for gold in Rio again – you have always got to aim for the highest – but I know it will be incredibly hard. It's four years down the line, so I'll be a little bit older and the event changes, but I'll definitely be going to compete for a medal."
When she recovers from her injury, training will involve running three times a week, weight sessions three times a week, circuit training and bike sessions at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
"It's a whole range of conditioning and technical work to make sure I'm strong and where I need to be," says Jessica.
"My food varies through different training phases and different times of the year, but the object is mainly making sure I have good recovery strategies and getting the protein that I need to help build my muscles and recover them from the training.
"More important than anything is having a balanced diet of everything, really, and not to pick up illnesses. I would have a small breakfast depending on my running session, quite a big lunch and then in the evening not to have too many carbohydrates – more like protein and vegetables."
This has been a noteworthy year, as Jessica married her long-term boyfriend, Andy Hill, last May.
"My two big days in my life, the Olympics and my wedding day, have been amazing, and I couldn't put one above the other. They were both incredible," says Jessica. "Andy and I have been together for nine years now, and he has supported me all the way along my career, from the beginning to where I am now.
"He is sporty and plays football, but not to the level that I compete."
So what is on the horizon for Britain's Olympic heptathlon champion?
"I want to keep improving, being the best athlete I can be, trying to avoid injuries and to keep winning medals," she says.
Echoing the Powerade slogan, "You have more power than you think", Jessica maintains that while most people will never pull on an Olympic jersey, with the right preparation, we can all achieve our own personal goals.
"Sometimes you put limits on yourself and you feel you can't achieve certain things," she says, "but you have to have that inner belief and feel you can push yourself to do some great things.
"Inner belief is just a part of who I am, with my family and coach believing in me."
Jessica Ennis-Hill is a Powerade ambassador. To find out about the importance of staying hydrated before, during and after training, visit www.powerade.ie or follow Powerade at facebook.com/powerade