The countdown is complete, we can now reveal our Sports Star of a truly memorable 2012 is Jessica Ennis. Nick Westby reports.
If anyone needed convincing of Jessica Ennis’s credentials as the Yorkshire Post Sports Star of 2012, then bear this in mind.
Next Wednesday – Boxing Day – towards the end of the greatest year of her life, she will be out in the harsh cold of the British winter, training.
While the majority of us stumble out of bed with sore heads and bloated bellies, the Olympic heptathlon champion will be hard at work, pounding the roads and hills around her home in Sheffield, responding to the orders of her trusty coach, Toni Minichiello.
It is that dedication from Ennis that sets her apart.
Yes, there might have been the many chat-show appearances and book signings in the past few months, but she richly deserved to enjoy her time in the limelight.
But now, less than five months removed from her career zenith, and more then three-and-a-half years away from the next Olympics when she will look to further write herself into British sporting lore, Ennis is back preparing to do what she does best.
After all, she has a world title to win back in Moscow next August.
“I’m going to eat as much as I can (on Christmas Day) but I’ll be back on Boxing Day training for next year’s World Championships,” said Ennis.
Her unparalleled dedication is one of the reasons why you, the Yorkshire Post readers, have voted the 26-year-old heptathlete as the county’s Sports Star of 2012.
Her radiant smile, box office status, girl-next-door traits and sheer sporting talent are some of the other reasons why Ennis earned your affections.
For a long time, she had been the woman on the brink of greatness.
At London 2012, she barged through the door.
The pressure on her shoulders ahead of the Olympic heptathlon on August 3 and 4 was like nothing even this most over-hyping of nations, had put on the shoulders of just one athlete.
Even though there was the occasional time when she questioned herself in the lead up to her defining moment – she delivered right when it mattered most.
Ennis was the poster girl of London 2012 and she thrillingly lived up to that billing.
The way she won the 100m hurdles in the first event of the heptathlon, sent records tumbling and pulses racing.
The way she finished off a dominant two days, by racing to victory in an 800m she could have jogged round, epitomised her will to win and her champion mentality. It was a super performance on ‘Super Saturday’. Ennis had captured the imagination of the nation.
“It was everything I had expected it to be and so much more,” she told the Yorkshire Post of her Olympic experience.
“It was my first Olympics and I had never experienced an athletics competition on that stage and with it being at home it just blew me away.
“The support, the crowds were amazing. They were brilliant, they helped carry me round. You felt that energy but equally on occasion I had to block them out.
“As an athlete, that’s what you dream of, having a crowd like that to roar you on.”
Just as her earth-shattering time of 12.54 seconds in the 100m hurdles blew everyone from spectators to opponents away, it also took Ennis by surprise.
“I felt ready to compete but I never thought I would do it in that time,” she said. “I knew I could probably run a personal best but 12.54 was just unbelievable. I didn’t believe it when I crossed the line because it had been such a tight, close race. I’ve got a really strong latter part of the race and was able to stay strong and pull it back. It was a great race and an amazing way to start.”
That flying start paved the way for a dominant performance in the heptathlon, with two more personal bests achieved and the ghosts of previous disappointments in the long jump and javelin laid to rest.
“That’s what was so surprising,” she said of how well she did in all seven disciplines. “I really thought it was going to be up and down, up and down, and really hard. Although it was mentally and physically draining, it went really smooth. I didn’t have any major mess ups and it went quite nicely. I never expected that at the Olympics.”
It all added up to that glorious run in the 800m, when Ennis came off the final bend in fourth place only to leave her rivals trailing in her wake as she sprinted for the line, the 80,000 in the stadium rising as one to acclaim such a great Olympian.
Her reaction as she crossed the line, her arms out wide, the emotions of relief, exhaustion and delight creeping onto her face, was one of the more iconic images of the Games.
Ennis recalled: “I don’t normally celebrate, I’m normally quite reserved and have a smile on my face, but it just overwhelmed me and my immediate response was just to say ‘yay I’ve done it’.”
Indeed she had. And you have voted her your Yorkshire Post Sports Star of 2012.
Ennis is a worthy recipient of the Jackson Trophies-sponsored award, out of a terrific cast list of candidates from this golden year of sport.
So congratulations to Jessica Ennis, the Yorkshire Post Sports Star of 2012, and let’s hope she enjoys more success throughout 2013.