Fri, September 20, 2013

Britian embraces heptathlete Jessica Ennis

By JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency


Britain's Jessica Ennis celebrates after heat 5 of the women's heptathlon 200m at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 3, 2012.

LONDON - Sometimes if you are very lucky, there is a moment that you can keep for ever. This is a lot more than a mere affirmation of your existence. It is evidence that an awful lot of people not only know who you are but are also extremely impressed by what you have done and how you did it.

Jessica Ennis, Britain’s favourite heptathlete, achieved such recognition here in the Olympic Stadium that it was quite astonishing in its warmth and spontaneity.

Veteran Olympic observers, including this one who started the trek in Montreal in 1976, agreed that there had never been such a start to the centrepiece of the Summer Games, the first session of track and field.

Sydney, 12 years ago, was rated by some the nearest rival but then the stadium was merely 75% full. Yesterday there was also the extra dimension of not adulation but a huge outpouring of specifically aimed affection.

Ennis’ name was swamped by the noise of almost 80,000 fans when she was introduced before the fifth and final heat of the 100 metres hurdles — her supreme event.

Her response was consistent with someone at an advanced point in that tunnel which leads to the ultimate zone of all world-class competitors. She offered a nominal wave and a somewhat taut, though, engaging smile.

Then she hurdled to the fastest time of her life by a massive margin, smashing the British record and leading four of her rivals to their personal best times.

As morning stretched into afternoon the smile broadened, with just one brief clouding when she failed to nail the high jump at 1.89 metres, but she had good reasons to be satisfied with her declaration of intent.

Ennis had to exploit her strongest ground right at the start of the competition but she could hardly have hoped to leave the dangerous lady of great power, Russia’s world champion Tatyana Chernova, trailing by 142 points with reigning Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of the Ukraine, still further behind.

It was a hugely encouraging initial statement that might just be sustained all the way to the climactic running of the 800 metres Saturday night. But beyond the hopes of Britain’s favourite athlete there was that other certainty that blazed as fiercely as the first brilliant morning sunshine.

This proclaimed that whatever Ennis’ tally of Olympic medals — she was catastrophically and career-threateningly injured before Beijing four years ago — she can take away the meaning of that extraordinary explosion of support.

For some of us who weary quite easily over the pretensions of so many instant celebrity sportsmen and women, who despair that the most favoured of all of them, the £200,000 a week soccer players, will ever grasp their good fortune and resolve to represent the national game with something more than complacent greed and minimal responsibility, the acclamation for Jessica Ennis will certainly linger strongly in the memory.

And what will it say? It will speak of the instinct of much of the public, battered and frustrated often in their own lives, struggling to pay the bills, bring up the kids in a life that makes some kind of sense, for character and performance which is exceptional — and, yes, inspiring.

Many years ago a leading sports trade unionist in America, the man who ushered baseball stars into the first rush for multi-millionaire status, said that it was absurd to expect leading sportsmen to set examples for youth. “That is the job for parents,” said Marvin Miller, who added, “Baseball stars get paid for playing baseball very well, full stop. They are not paid for helping to bring up the kids.”

There may be a harsh but essential truth buried in that remark. However, it was hardly the end of the argument and if anyone doubted it they should have been in the Olympic Stadium Friday morning when the biggest gathering so far at these Olympics made absolutely clear the extraordinary place the young woman from a Sheffield side-street has found in the imagination of the nation.