Jessica Ennis returns to the scene of her darkest moment this weekend in bullish mood.
Chastened by losing her world outdoor and indoor titles in the last year, and now insulted by a high-ranking official who claims she is ‘fat’, Ennis has a variety of points to prove in the tiny Austrian town of Gotzis.
It was there four years ago that the budding superstar from Sheffield suffered the double stress fracture in her foot that ruled her out of the Beijing Games.
This weekend’s Gotzis meeting also represents the 26-year-old’s only full heptathlon in preparation for the London Games, and her last chance to measure herself against her chief rivals for gold this summer.
And she arrived there this week fresh from a dismantling of the best hurdlers in the world in Manchester and confident that the snide remarks will not knock her out of her pre-London stride.
Ennis laughed off reports yesterday that a senior figure at UK Athletics has described her as fat ahead of this summer’s Olympics.
Ennis’s coach Toni Minichiello claimed that an unnamed “high-ranking person” within the governing body labelled the European champion and two-time world title-winner as “fat and she’s got too much weight”.
Minichiello said the comments came amid perceived intrusion in Ennis’s preparation for the Olympics from “people in fairly high positions, who should know better”.
He admitted that people were trying to be helpful, but added: “I get e-mails, phone calls, text messages and voicemails giving me advice on what I should be doing with Jessica Ennis that’s going to make a difference. It’s a lot of background noise that you can get easily distracted by.
“I’ve never had any issue with her weight or shape. There are times I’ve wished she was taller, but that’s it.”
When quizzed about it yesterday, Ennis deflected the growing farago with ease.
“I’m not going to go into that right now. It’s not an issue at all,” she said.
“It’s definitely a funny one, but it’s not an issue.”
While Minichiello was concerned about possible distractions as Ennis looks to bounce back from losing two world titles in the space of seven months, the Sheffield athlete added: “I don’t think so. I think I came into this year expecting different things to happen, different articles and things like that. So I think if you come into it expecting those kind of things then it’s not such a shock when you read things like that.
“I obviously see things. Things come up on Twitter and I read things. But I try not to focus too much on reading all the articles; I just kind of get on with it, laugh it off really.
“It’s not something I worry about. It’s not something that’s stressing me at the moment so I can kind of just brush it off and ignore it really.”
UK Athletics declined to respond to Minichiello’s comments, which originated from an interview conducted in November last year.
Minichiello said yesterday it was “ludicrous” to describe Ennis as fat, but conceded his “defensive” attitude towards an athlete he has coached since she was 11 sometimes comes across the wrong way.
“I am an easily frustrated individual and my support of Jessica is huge,” he said.
“Having had a relationship since she was such a young age, my problem is I’m incredibly defensive of that and of her and sometimes when that comes out it comes out in the wrong way I think.
“I hope people understand my motivation behind it and understand it’s aimed to be for the best, but quite often it’s not perceived in that way.”
Asked if everyone was now pulling in the same direction, the 45-year-old added: “Yes, I think we’ve got everything we need at this point and this weekend will hopefully show that most of that’s come to fruition.
“(Biomechanist) Paul Brice is here so we’re going to pick up a lot of data from that and allow me to write the next 10 weeks of training into London to get that right.
“I’m a little bit nervous about putting pen to paper, it depends on what figures we come out with and how we move forward, but touch wood it’s all pretty good – which means I’ve probably jinxed the weekend now!”
Ennis will face the two women who have taken her world titles this weekend, with Russia’s Tatyana Chernova having triumphed in Daegu last year and Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska winning the pentathlon at the world indoors in Istanbul in March with a new world record. Ennis was let down in Daegu last year by a poor javelin and indoors in Istanbul by her long jump and she is determined for there to be no weak events in Gotzis.
“More than anything I just want really solid performances, not for one event to really let me down,” she said.
“When you do great performances you do take a lot of confidence from them so I would love to do that as well.”
Replicating last week’s achievement in the hurdles – albeit a personal best that was wiped from the records because there were only nine hurdles – will make a good start, given that it is the first event.
“I need to run that time (12.75 seconds) in a heptathlon, but it was great to just have a race last week, to get sharp.
“I would love to run a time like that in the hurdles in Gotzis and just get some really solid performances in, just make sure everything is really consistent.”
Ennis has already exorcised the demons from the small Austrian town by returning there the past two years and winning the title.
Another victory this weekend against her two biggest rivals would see her lay down a significant marker ahead of London 2012 and the biggest summer of her life.
“I’m in great shape for Gotzis, but I also want to build on that and make sure I’m in great shape ahead of the Olympics as well,” she said.