20121008

Jessica Ennis adds final chapter to a golden year with story of how she fulfilled her Olympic dreams

The autobiography of Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis

It is a measure of the essential modesty of Olympic golden girl Jessica Ennis that she was reluctant to commit to telling her life story before London 2012 because she was not sure that she had done enough to warrant it.

The idea was discussed earlier this year, when she asked Rick Broadbent, the athletics writer who had ghosted her column in The Times since 2009, if he would be willing to work with her, only to decide that she did not want to blur her focus on her ultimate goal.

"We talked about it but she was always in two minds," Broadbent told The Sports Bookshelf. "She didn't want to do it because, in her mind, she had not really achieved anything, so the project was put on hold."

Ennis had been European and World heptathlon champion but only Olympic gold would satisfy her definition of achievement and it was not until the medal was hers on that memorable August night in east London that she felt she had a story to share. The rights to her autobiography were not assigned to publishers Hodder and Stoughton until the first week in September.

It gave Broadbent a testing schedule to deliver the manuscript on time but having written a number of books in his own name and ghosted others, he had some experience to draw on.  He had the benefit, too, of a well-established working relationship with his subject. The book will be published on November 8.

"It helped that I've known Jessica for some years so a lot of the background was familiar to me already," he said. "I first met her in 2008 and we have worked together on her column in The Times since 2009.

"And I like her as a person. She is genuinely lovely and a pleasure to deal with, and that isn't something you can always say about people involved in professional sport at the highest level.  She is the nicest person I've met in my career in journalism."

"She had never cried on the podium before."

Ennis has a personality that exudes warmth and her place in the affections of the British public was only reinforced when, in her trackside interview with the BBC's Phil Jones in the aftermath of her Olympic victory, she struggled in vain to hold her emotions in check.  Tearful scenes at the moment of triumph or defeat have become commonplace but for Ennis, a proud Yorkshire girl with some Sheffield steel beneath the soft exterior, it was a first.

"She had never cried on the podium before," Broadbent said. "It was a first show of emotion in public.  She had always managed to hold it in before, even at the lowest moments.

"She has been through the mill with injuries, missing the Beijing Olympics of course.  So after winning in London I think it was just a total outpouring of relief.  She knew it was her one chance really to be Olympic champion and she had done it."

Broadbent first encountered Ennis at Gotzis in Austria in 2008, when he was among the journalists who interviewed her as she lay on a couch, her foot encased in ice after the fateful injury to her right ankle had forced her to withdraw from competition only 10 weeks ahead of the Beijing games.

"It was typical of her that she insisted she would be okay, that it was only a precaution.  Of course when she got home the scans revealed the triple fracture and her Olympic dream was over."

It would not be the first time she would put on a brave face while inside wanting to cry.  Her book will reveal, however, that away from the public gaze Ennis can be as emotional as any young athlete.

"Behind the scenes there have been tears left, right and centre at times," Broadbent said. "It is not a misery memoir by any means but there bits that the public don't see.

"She has what you might call a love-hate relationship with her coach, Toni Minichiello, that can get a bit feisty.  They can go at each other pretty hard.  She has been with him since she was 13 and I think she feels he treats her sometimes as if she were still 13.

"There have been moments, too, when she has been deeply worried about her health.  She had a time when she was suffering from serious bouts of dizziness, so bad that she could hardly stand, and she had to undergo a brain scan.  It turned out that it was an inner ear problem but she found it pretty scary at the time."

The story reveals, too, that Ennis has a strong sense of what she feels is right for her and that she will not be pushed around.

"This was her one last shot."

"She came under a lot of pressure to move to London at one stage," Broadbent said. "Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, wanted all the elite athletes and coaches to be based at the Lee Valley Performance Centre in London, and tried to engineer things so that Toni would have to operate from there.

"But Jessica's life was in Sheffield.  She is very close to her family and has a long-term boyfriend and simply refused to move.  It was having that strong connection with her roots that probably kept her grounded and she felt it was important to have a normal life in Sheffield to go back to, away from the limelight."

Broadbent revealed that Ennis speaks out from personal conviction on the subject of body image and eating disorders, prompted by the remarks attributed to an unnamed Great Britain official during the build-up to London 2012 that the 5ft 4ins athlete, renowned for her six-pack, was overweight.

"She was really worried about the message comments like that put out, particularly to young female athletes and girls in general," he said. "She has strong views on body image and eating disorders and drugs as well and she puts them across very well."

There is much in the story about her upbringing in Sheffield as the daughter of a painter and decorator originally from Jamaica and a social worker from Derbyshire who now works for a charity helping people with drug and drink addiction, but also about balancing the commercial opportunities opened to her by fame with the need to keep her eyes on the goal of winning.  Her endorsement contracts only reinforced her status as the poster girl for London 2012, adding to the pressure on her to deliver on the day.

"Don't get me wrong, she likes the profile she has," Broadbent said. "But the build-up to the Games became incredibly stressful for her.  People were expecting her to win but she knows what can go wrong in competition. She also knows she might not get to the next Games in Rio so this was her one shot, her one opportunity to achieve what she had worked for.

"One of the interesting things was that she never wanted to go to the stadium beforehand.  She had never competed in London before the Olympics, not even at Crystal Palace, and she wanted it to be new and exciting."

Ennis has subsequently said that when she stepped into the stadium for the first time ahead of the 100m hurdles event that began the heptathlon programme and was hit by the noise generated by 80,000 spectators in response to her name being called -- a far cry from the half-empty stadiums that often witness the first event in the seven-part programme -- it did give her a significant lift.  Clearly the strategy was the right one.

Unbelievable - From Childhood Dreams to Winning Olympic Gold is published by Hodder and Stoughton on November 8.

Rick Broadbent is the author of several critically acclaimed books, on football, boxing and motorsport.
His Ring of Fire: The Inside Story of Valentino Rossi and MotoGP was shortlisted for the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

That followed Looking For Eric: In Search of The Leeds Greats and The Big If: The Life and Death of Johnny Owen .

He returned to motorsport this year with That Near Death Thing: Inside the Most Dangerous Race in the World, which focuses on the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races through the story of four leading riders.

He also collaborated with paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson and motorcycle racer Ron Haslam on their autobiographies.

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