Yorkshire’s own Jess Ennis-Hill announces pregnancy

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Multi-tasking is Jessica Ennis-Hill’s forte so the prospect of the newly pregnant heptathlete juggling motherhood with a bid for Olympic gold at Rio 2016 is one she is determined to embrace.

Ennis-Hill announced on Friday she will have to skip this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but she intends to train throughout her pregnancy and could be back in action by the early months of 2015.

Jessica Ennis and husband Andy Hill.

Jessica Ennis and husband Andy Hill.

The World Championships in Beijing next year are a target, but the main aim for the 27-year-old remains the Olympics in Brazil a year later, and the defence of the gold medal she won in spectacular fashion at the London Games.

Ennis-Hill married last year, and said it was “very unexpected” news that she and husband Andy Hill are to be parents, with her schedule for 2014 having been clearly mapped out with coach Toni Minichiello to include the Commonwealth Games in Scotland’s biggest city.

Ennis-Hill announced in a statement released by her management: “I have some very unexpected but exciting news to share - Andy and I are expecting a baby.

“We are completely overwhelmed, with excitement and a degree of anxiety that I am sure all first-time parents will relate to.

“My plans for 2014 have been completely turned upside down, but having had a couple of weeks to think about things from a career point of view I am 100 per cent set on returning to full-time athletics once our baby is born and go for a second gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 - that challenge really excites me.

“But in the short term I will make our baby a priority and enjoy the whole experience as much as possible.

“I am sorry I won’t be in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, but know it will be an amazing occasion. I will be at home awaiting the arrival of a little Ennis-Hill.”

She reported “no crazy cravings yet”, and Minichiello confirmed Ennis-Hill remains in training.

The heptathlon - 100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m - demands peak physical fitness from elite competitors, and there was immediate speculation that Ennis-Hill may opt to specialise rather than tackle the full event.

She is already a world-class sprint hurdler, as she demonstrated in London 18 months ago.

Fellow British athlete Louise Hazel, who gave up heptathlon this year to concentrate on other events, said on Sky Sports News: “Is it possible to be an elite sportswoman and have a baby? Yes. Is it possible to come back from Olympic gold as a heptathlete and go on to Rio... it throws a huge question over the continuation of a career as a heptathlete and that’s just being realistic.

“I think she’ll be able to come back and compete. The question is: in what event?”

Yet Minichiello, who will work with physiologist Dr Steve Ingham and physio Alison Rose on keeping Ennis-Hill on track for a return next year, is adamant his star pupil is targeting the heptathlon, even if specialising could be a fall-back option.

He said: “Both of those options are open to her. At this stage we’re talking heptathlon.”

Minichiello has been making plans for Ennis-Hill during each trimester of the pregnancy, and says after the birth they will work “a step at a time” at priming the Sheffield athlete for competition.

“There is the indoor season potentially but certainly the World Championships in Beijing will be the aim,” Minichiello said.

“She’ll have to do a heptathlon before that in order to qualify. Getting her fit for May, that will be the primary focus, with the possibility of an indoor season before that.”

Ennis-Hill won Commonwealth bronze as a virtual unknown in Melbourne in 2006, when Kelly Sotherton took gold, but skipped the 2010 Games in Delhi where fellow English athlete Hazel triumphed, preferring to compete at the European Championships.

She has barely competed since the Olympics, being forced to miss last summer’s World Championships in Moscow due to an Achilles injury, and Liverpool 21-year-old Katarina Johnson-Thompson could be a serious heptathlon gold medal contender in Ennis-Hill’s absence from Glasgow 2014.

Returning to competition and high achievement as a new mother has been achieved by several sportswomen.

Britain’s Paula Radcliffe won two New York Marathons inside two years after having her first child, while Belgian Kim Clijsters won two of her three US Open tennis titles - also in New York - as a mother.

Denise Lewis won heptathlon gold for Britain in 2000, and in 2002 became a mother. She was unable to match her pre-pregnancy form and her career fizzled out with no more major championship medals.

Assessing Ennis-Hill’s prospects, Lewis referred to her own postnatal sporting experience, claiming she lacked the “right guidance”.

Lewis told LBC 97.3: “Her body will soften, it will change, and to regain the stability she needs in the joints, in her abdomen, those things will take time.

“As we all know she’s a fierce competitor, she likes challenges, and if that is in her mind, to be back for Rio, you can bet your money that she’ll be going for it.”