Competing in the Olympics and Paralympics must bring with it a whole world of pressure. The opportunity for a medal only comes around once every four years and if you mess up on the day that’s it. Four years of hard work, constant training and dedication all for nothing – that’s a whole world of pressure right there not to ruin the chance you’re given. Then there’s the fact that as far as you’re viewed by the spectators you’re not competing for yourself, you’re competing for your entire country. There’s no hiding in obscurity the moment you put on that national kit and in doing so you take the hopes of everyone who holds the same passport as you. That’s a completely new level of pressure there.
So then what happens if, on top of that, the Games are held in your own country? And you are made the poster girl of it, an icon of your country’s opportunity to gain a gold medal? All of a sudden your face is everywhere, advertising everything from energy companies to skin care ranges. That’s a level of pressure your average human being can’t even begin to fathom.
Luckily for Great Britain, Jess Ennis isn’t your average human being. Taking to the stadium for her first event (at her first Olympic games), the pocket rocket heptathlete didn’t seem to even blink an eye when 80,000 people went insane as her name was called out over the Olympic stadium loudspeaker system. She just kept her head down, kept focused and showed the entire world that she was worth the hype.
After breaking her foot in 2008, Jennis missed out on that year’s Olympics, having to watch Nataliya Dobrynska win gold from her couch (Jennis on the couch, not Dobrynska). After all that training and preparation she’d would have to wait a further four years for her chance to stand on top the podium.
Now we’re not saying every athlete to be put on a pedestal pre Olympics falls apart when their time to compete finally arrives, but it does sometimes seem to be the case for one reason or another. Think Liu Xiang, China’s hurdling hero who failed to start at the Beijing Olympics after a false start or Greek pre Games poster boy Konstandinos Kenderis who withdrew from Athens 2004 after a doping violation. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of expectation and a lot of hope pinned on the shoulders of the hailed athletes, yet Jess Ennis posed for her skin care adverts, appeared on the cover of glossy magazines, smiled for her Powerade endorsement and still went on to win her gold medal. With 7 events in a heptathlon there’s 7 chances to not quite perform as well as you should and let points slip, yet Jess almost made the competition boring such was her prowess in the stadium.
So that’s why we have Jennis at 2nd place. There are so many worthy Olympic and Paralympic winners (Ellie Simmonds was a close tie for this place) yet Jennis took on the burden of the nation’s expectations and never once gave anyone room for doubt.
Wanna watch her 800 again? http://youtu.be/G-rEnjNWnMg?t=21m you know you do!