Rio 2016: Jessica Ennis-Hill flies the flag for huge Yorkshire contingent

Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill in the women's 100m hurdles heats during day one of the Muller Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London.
Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill in the women's 100m hurdles heats during day one of the Muller Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London.
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FOR team GB, Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis-Hill was the face of the 2012 Olympics, with heptathlon victory on super Saturday one of the stories of the London Games.

Four years on and now a young mum, the worldwide celebrity will be one of the most famous faces in Rio.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson (right) and Jessica Ennis-Hill

Katarina Johnson-Thompson (right) and Jessica Ennis-Hill

But as well as leading out Team GB, the proud Sheffield athlete remains loyal to her roots and is deeply proud to spearhead a 54-strong team of athletes from Yorkshire.

There will be few higher-profile events than the women’s heptathlon in South America in which Ennis-Hill competes.

Now aged 30, Ennis-Hill is bidding to defend her London gold amid stern opposition from Canada’s current world no 1 Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Britain’s rising star Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who is seven years Ennis-Hill’s junior.

The defending champion is also looking to net her biggest win since becoming a mum after giving birth to son Reggie in July 2014, with the reigning world champion also having had to overcome frustrations with injuries.

Add in concerns with the Zika virus and the Russian doping scandal – which is still denying Ennis-Hill a World Championship gold from back in 2011 – and it’s clear that the Sheffield athlete has a lot to consider heading to South America. But despite being by some considerable margin the highest profile of the 54 athletes representing Yorkshire, Britain’s golden girl has lost no passion for her county at all. Athletes of all ages and experiences will represent the White Rose – from 16-year-old Lois Toulson who will hope to make a splash in diving – to evergreen 60-year-old show jumper John Whitaker.

Triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee as well as boxer Nicola Adams are among the county’s strongest medal hopes. And then there is Ennis-Hill – the bookmakers’ favourite to successfully defend her Olympic heptathlon crown, who will metaphorically lead out England’s proudest and largest county too.

“I’m very proud about that,” Ennis-Hill told The Yorkshire Post, when asked about what representing her county still meant to her.

“I think we come from a great county and during London 2012 it was great to see Yorkshire doing so well. And it’s not just one sport, it’s a real range of sports.

“The Brownlees and Nicola Adams and everyone, they train so hard.

“They are incredibly talented and so I am really proud to be amongst them.”

D-day for Ennis-Hill will arrive on Friday, August 12 and Saturday, August 13, with the bookmakers making the Yorkshire star a best-priced 13-8 favourite, ahead of Johnson-Thompson and Theisen-Eaton who are both 3-1 in what is being considered by many two be a three-horse race.

Ennis-Hill, though, says it is wrong to label herself as favourite, especially as she is not the world no 1. “I’m not world leader so I can’t really be favourite,” reasoned Britain’s golden girl.

“I think Brianne is favourite going into it but it’s hard with the heptathlon – everyone has kind of laid their cards on the table and everyone has posted a score but it’s about going there on those two days and you all start from zero again.

“There’s so many opportunities for you to put great performances in but you can easily mess up and performances can be wasted like that.

“I don’t read too much into favourites at the moment.”

“I am just doing everything I can. I am putting everything in place, I am putting the hard work in and hopefully I can squeeze a few more points out.

“But again, it’s what happens on those two days and the heptathlon is incredibly strong at the moment.”

What’s certain is that the Rio 2012 heptathlon queen will be an extremely worthy winner – and immediately afterwards Ennis-Hill’s focus will quickly shift to matters back home.

Plenty has changed in the four years since the Sheffield star savoured gold in London – and by a considerable distance those changes have been topped by becoming an adoring young mum.

Reflecting on what her immediate plans would be after Rio, Ennis-Hill admitted that “time off, a holiday and the chance to relax” are high up on her list of priorities but insisted: “I just want to get straight home to see my son.”