Jessica Ennis-Hill has looked back at the defining moments of her career, the coach who got her started, and the moment she knew it was time to retire.
The Olympic gold medal winner explained how her first coach staggered her progress to make sure she made the transition from a competitive junior to the best in the world at the Olympics.
Ennis-Hill told the Game Changers Podcast that, “I think my coach probably had lots of goals and hopes for me at that stage. He was a very organised and structured coach so he would plan years ahead.
"He was all about short-term plans and short-term goals but also having very much a long-term plan as to how he could get me through various stages of competitions, from junior to senior and on to the world stage.
“Little by little he would introduce a new level of athletics to me so a new style of competition, a new ambition, a new goal that we could both focus on so it was very much a gradual process.”
The Sheffield star was not an obvious candidate to become a heptathlete, and she credits her coach for spotting an innate talent that could be developed into the contender she became.
“He saw me run a few times and I think, as a coach, you just have that eye for an athlete and you know he was very impressed how springy I was, like my running style, which was very raw and I’d not learned any techniques or had any coaching before.
“He saw something that was very raw and very natural and he knew that he could coach me in a way that could enhance that and improve my performance.”
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Ennis-Hill explained that her relationship with Toni Minichiello was occasionally fractious, but that it is an inevitable and perhaps necessary aspect to a coach-athlete relationship.
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“I don’t think I’ve ever met an athlete and coach relationship where it’s completely smooth all the time. You know it’s a stressful environment that you are both in you know? You’re trying to perform the best you can, you’re having setbacks, you’re having disappointments, you’re having to deal with injuries.
“You’re having to learn how to communicate really well in really high pressured and intense situations and you’re also, for me and Tony, we were two very, very different personalities and characters.”
Perhaps her biggest career disappointment was an injury that prevented her from competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“It was absolutely the biggest blow of my career at that stage and I’d kind of been blissfully floating through my career to that point where I was still very young and naïve to injury and just kind of improving every year and doing what I did and it was relatively easy at that stage,” she admitted.
Jessica Ennis-Hill wins silver at Rio 2016
Image credit: Getty Images
“Until that moment when I picked up three stress fractures in my right foot, and everything just stopped, you know. I had the worry that I was going to miss maybe a week or two weeks off training and then I was told that it was months.
“I was going to miss the Olympics and it was a career-threatening injury and there was hope that I would get back to my best, but it wasn’t guaranteed.
“I hadn’t even really started my career and I was faced with the fact that it might end at that stage.”
Asked to reflect, she believes now that such an early and significant disappoint may have set her up to fully commit to success in the London 2012 games.
“I honestly think that that was part of my journey and it kind of made me just stop and think, you know what? I am going to pick up injuries. I have to be sensible about the way I train.
“So it definitely fuelled me. It just gave me that motivation to want to be even better and come back even stronger.”
She looks back on her success in the long jump, an event she was struggling with, as a moment she truly believed he was on course to succeed.
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“I couldn’t take off properly, my runway was constantly changing. I felt that it was kind of out of my control and I couldn’t get it right. And I remember having like a crisis, well my coach had a crisis team meeting about my long jump before we headed in to London
“I jumped 648 and I knew at that moment that that was what I needed. The javelin was going well, the 800 was going well, I knew I could do those two events but the long jump was always an event that I was unsure about and when I jumped that jump it was like, Oh! I remember seeing pictures of me fist-pumping the air, like! The long jump was a really big event for me.”
Perhaps as evidence of the disagreements she would have with her coach, she remembered the differing views over whether it was time for her to retire after the Rio Olympics.
“He wanted me to keep going,” she said.
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Image credit: Eurosport
“He wanted me to do another year ‘cos we had the London World Championships in London. He was like, You can do it, you can do it! And although I felt that physically I could probably carry on performing for another year after the Rio Olympics, I just didn’t have that drive and that motivation to want to do it.
“To go through all the training again and the sacrifices and I think in my mind I’d focused on the Rio Olympics. I’d focused on a relatively short-term goal and yeah, I think for me at that point, it was about getting there, performing and I just felt exhausted after the Rio Olympics.
“I felt really mentally fatigued from the competition itself but just generally the highs and lows of that year and I wanted to just stop and just move to the next phase of my life enjoying my children and doing different things and it felt like the right time for me to do that.”
- Jess Ennis-Hill was speaking to Sue Anstiss MBE on The Game Changers podcast.
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