Rio 2016: Silver lining as Jess Ennis-Hill hints at fond farewell

Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill in Rio on Saturday night. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill in Rio on Saturday night. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
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Jessica Ennis-Hill looks set to retire from athletics in the wake of her heptathlon silver medal at the Rio Olympics after admitting she wants to leave the sport on a high.

The 30-year-old said she had almost made up her mind over her future, but wanted to take her time over such a “huge decision”.

The Sheffield athlete’s reign as Olympic champion was ended by brilliant young Belgian Nafissatou Thiam in Brazil on Saturday night, but silver two years after the birth of her son Reggie, and with her best score – 6,775 points – since landing gold in such dominant fashion at London 2012 was still a cause for celebration.

It looks like being the final act of a glorious career for one of the finest athletes Great Britain has produced.

She admitted the prospect of a swansong at next summer’s World Championships in London was tempting, but did not want to be remembered as an athlete who did not know when to walk away.

“I kind of think in my mind (I know) what I am going to do,” said Ennis-Hill, who will definitely not compete again this year.

“But it’s still a huge decision and I want to make sure it’s the right one. I kind of know, but I am not 100 per cent sure.

“I always said I want to have a great career, give as much as I can.

“So many athletes just don’t know when it’s the time to retire and I don’t want to be that athlete who fizzles out. I don’t want to spend a year or two years chasing bits and being injured. I want to end on a high.

“There’s definitely some younger, new athletes coming through and performing well.

“That’s inevitable, the older ones have to move on and call it a day and the younger ones come through and the sport continues.”

Her coach Toni Minichiello, with whom she has been since she was 13, said: “I’ve said to her in my super cheesy chat, ‘You see Rocky Balboa, there’s this chat between Rocky and his brother. It’s like, have you still got stuff in the basement?’

“I think it’s that, because so few people get to decide when they get to retire. She has to decide, ‘Am I satisfied, am I happy?’.”

Ennis-Hill celebrated her medal with a glass of champagne at the Olympic Village after arriving back at around 3am.

She said she was “honestly not disappointed” to have lost her title.

Ennis-Hill, who now heads off on holiday with her husband Andy and Reggie, has always maintained since her return following her son’s birth that her priority was being a mother.

“I have had such great support from my family, my husband, helping me to balance the two,” she said.

“I have no doubt they would continue to help me for another year, but it’s such a tough event.”

Should she call it a day, Ennis-Hill will retire having won Olympic gold, two world titles and European gold in the heptathlon as well as world indoor gold in the pentathlon.

“I never thought I’d win this many medals and even just being at the top of my sport and this event for so many years has been unbelievable,” she said.

On her future plans, she said: “I still want to be active and keep fit and be involved in sport in some element and get people active and inspire them.”

The timetable at the athletics, with much longer gaps than normal between morning and evening sessions for the sake of American television, hampered the heptathletes.

“The schedule was ridiculous, the worst I have known,” said Ennis-Hill.

The Yorkshire athlete led after day one but was short of the distance she would have been hoping for in the long jump on the resumptipon on Saturday, as Thiam moved into the lead.

Fellow Briton Katarina Johnson-Thompson at least laid to rest the demons of last year’s world championships when she failed to record a distance.

Ennis-Hill lost more ground on Thiam in the penultimate event, the javelin.

She threw 46.06m but that was more than seven metres shy of Thiam, while her team-mate’s medal hopes went up in smoke with a disappointing performance.

The reigning world champion had to dig deeper than she had ever gone before to prise the gold from Thiam’s fingers, and set off at breakneck pace in the closing 800m race.

Ennis-Hill produced a gutsy display of front-running in a bid to make up the near 10 seconds she had to finish ahead of Thiam to deny her gold, but it was not enough.

Johnson-Thompson rounded off a disappointing campaign with a respectable fourth place finish in the final heat.

If Ennis-Hill’s tears were of celebration and relief in the aftermath, her team-mate Johnson-Thompson’s were of bitter disappointment after awful shot put and javelin performances led to a sixth-placed finish.

“I think it’s been really tough for Kat,” said Ennis-Hill.

“She has got so much potential and physically she’s amazing, but she’s got the throws that are weak and that needs addressing.”

Johnson-Thompson added: “I’m going backwards a bit, aren’t I? I train most days in the shot put, I try so hard in it.

“Maybe I know too much about it and am over-thinking it. I honestly don’t know.”

Olympics: Pages 2-3