UNLIKE America’s Justin Gatlin, the two-time convicted cheat who won a controversial 100 metres world title ahead of Usain Bolt, the so-called saviour of athletics, Sheffield’s Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill was afforded a rapturous reception when she received a belated gold medal last night.
Six years after Yorkshire’s golden girl was beaten in the World Championships by Tatyana Chernova who was subsequently found to have been blood doping, it was particularly fitting that Dame Jess – who is expecting her second child – was honoured in the venue where she won the Olympic title, and the hearts of a grateful nation, in 2012.
Though this presentation ceremony was better late than never, it does illustrate the determination of the IAAF under Sebastian Coe, a multiple middle distance champion who grew up in Sheffield, to use retrospective testing to not only eradicate the cheats but also to revise the record books accordingly. More clearly needs to be done – the mere presence of the aforementioned Gatlin undermined, still further, the credibility of athletics – but it’s also important to appreciate the legacy of Dame Jess, now a triple world champion.
The inspirational example set by the down-to-earth heptathlon heroine galvanised others to take up sport and it can be no coincidence that women’s sport is now flourishing in Britain, as exemplified by the successes enjoyed by the country’s hockey, cricket and football teams in the past year. Back on top of the world, Dame Jess changed her sport for the better and left a legacy of which she can be rightly proud. If only the same could be said about a certain other ‘winner’ this weekend.