Jessica Ennis-Hill became a British sporting icon after winning Olympic heptathlon gold at London 2012. The recently retired three-time world champion tells SPIKES who and what to look out for when athletics returns to London for the 2017 World Championships.
What are your plans for London 2017 now that you won’t be there on the track?
I haven’t got any concrete plans just yet, so this is the first bit of excitement that’s building around it. Like you say, it will be a very different year, I won’t be competing, which will be really strange, but it’s still nice to be involved in some form in this competition and being involved in 2017 in some way. And then I have to be at the stadium at some point to see as much as I can and obviously see how the heptathlon goes.
Would you say the heptathlon is the event you most enjoy watching, or are there any others you look forward to in particular?
I enjoy watching all of it. It will be nice for me because I won’t have that feeling of nerves, of being anxious – I’ll literally be there and can enjoy watching. So of course for me the heptathlon is one of the main events. I think this year will be a very different year, with obviously myself retiring and Brianne [Theisen-Eaton, world indoor champion] retiring.
You know it’s the younger girls coming through, so that’ll be really, really interesting. Then of course there’s a lot of talk that it will be Usain Bolt’s last championships and it’ll be great to see him compete again because he is such an iconic figure within our sport. I just love watching him race. And then generally just cheering on all the British athletes because we have a fantastic team.
You mention there’s a new crop of heptathletes coming through. What do you predict will be the winning score at London 2017?
Ohhh that’s really, really hard because everything has changed quite a lot. I think [Olympic champion Nafi] Thiam, if she’s fit, she’s injury-free, she’s been training well, I definitely think she can replicate a 6,800, if not maybe even a little bit more. But I think to get on the top of the podium, it may take a 6,700 – 6,800 score.
Ennis-Hill (far R) and fellow Rio 2016 heptathlon medallist Brianne Theisen-Eaton (far L) have both announced their retirements since the Olympics
Who do you expect to be on the podium?
It is the nature of the event that the heptathlon is just so unpredictable. You have a few key athletes you know that will always perform, and you know they’ll be around the podium, say podium level. But then this year is quite different because there are new athletes coming through, old athletes have left and I’m not sure. There’s always an outsider as well that gets on the podium, someone you might not have expected, but who really performs at that time and just puts together a solid performance across the board to get on the podium.
So there’s obviously Nafi, and then of course there’s Kat [Johnson-Thompson, European indoor champion] and obviously the world champs is in London. She will have that added help of a home crowd and that buzz and that adrenaline, which she can easily use.
If you look over to the men’s side there’s a similar shift happening. Ashton Eaton’s just retired and some youngsters are coming through. Who do you think could step up to the challenge there?
Yes, I mean he’s such a huge talent and he’s dominated the event for so long, so again, it could be really interesting to see who steps up to take his place.
I think Damian [Warner, Olympic bronze medallist] has been incredible. He’s a huge talent. I think it’ll be really good to see now that the indoor season has started, see how everybody comes out, how everyone’s fared over the winter, how their winter seasons go and that will give us a really good indication to how summer’s going to pan out.
And away from the multis, I read somewhere last year one of your favourite performances of 2016 was Keni Harrison’s 100m hurdles WR?
Yes, definitely the hurdles. I absolutely love that event and seeing Kendra Harrison run that time in that race was just incredible. She’s just so fast. And I think she is going to come back this year absolutely on fire, because obviously having missed out on the Olympics last year, she wants to come back with a bang and prove a point.
The hurdles is always really competitive, but I think she will definitely be at the top of her game this year.
In London in July 2016, Ennis-Hill ran in the same race that saw Keni Harrison run 12.20 to break the 100m hurdles world record
If you had to put your money on three athletes – British or international – to do well in 2017, who would they be and why?
Oh that’s really hard. Obviously Usain Bolt. It’s going to be one of his last competitions, but he always delivers on the big stage, so without a doubt him.
Mhhh… who else? I think [world record holder Renaud] Lavillenie in the pole vault. I absolutely love watching him compete. I think he’s just so rhythmic and his whole event just flows. He’s great to watch and he has a knack at performing when it matters. He is going to come back this year and he hasn’t got a world title yet. He’s got special memories of London from 2012 and especially the way it went for him in Rio he will come out this year and really want to make sure that he’s right at the very top with that gold medal.
And theeeenn… I don’t know. Oh wait. Definitely one to watch is Dina Asher-Smith. She’s such an incredibly talented athlete and she’s still so young, so together and so grounded in her approach to everything. I think she just has an aura of a champion and especially with the home support, I think she will really step it up in London.
And of course she was a kit carrier back in 2012! What kind of advice would you give to youngsters like her coming through, who were at the London Games as spectators and volunteers and now have a home championships to look forward to?
It is a difficult and different situation. When I was competing at London 2012, my coach kept saying to me throughout the entire competition ‘you’ve got 80,000 friends supporting you. Treat them as your friends, they’re willing you on to do well’. That’s what I did. Everyone was there to support me to do as well as I possibly could.
You’ve done your event so many times, it’s no different to any other heptathlon you’ve done before, you’re competing against the same girls all the time. I’d probably say that you have done your event in training a million times and in competition and just do all the simple basic things that you always do to compete well, don’t change anything drastic. And use those thousands of friends to help you.