Everyone remembers Jess’s iconic gold-medal-winning moment at the London Olympics, but the path to getting there was filled with epic challenges, injuries and setbacks, as she shares with us here…
When Jessica Ennis-Hill won the BBC’s vote for best British women’s sporting moment last month for her gold medal win at the London 2012 Olympics, it gave us all an excuse to re-watch the footage, feel those goose bumps and relive the emotional rollercoaster of Super Saturday.
For Jess herself, it’s exactly the same. “It doesn’t matter how many times I see that 800m, watching it back still makes me nervous and still fills me with the same emotions I had on that day. It's incredible."
The real story
Over Jess’s career there were lots of rollercoaster moments, and many where the cheering public were unaware of the challenges she had to overcome behind the scenes.
From overcoming injury to coming back after the birth of her first baby, Reggie, here she shares the backstory behind the glory in seven amazing career moments.
2006 Commonwealth Games – her first bronze medal!
Although Jess had been training since she was 13, it’s your first big event that always stands out in your memory. For Jessica Ennis-Hill, this was the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, aged 19 – an event where her coach didn’t think she’d come back with a medal…
“It was my first a real taste of a multisport event and the first time I’d really gone out on the world stage, so it really felt like a big deal. Because I was so young, my coach told me to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy myself and not worry about medals because it was unlikely I’d win anything.
“I don’t know whether it was because the pressure was off, but it was one of those heptathlons where I really found my form, everything went well and I came away with bronze.
“It was that medal that really kick-started my drive to keep going back into training and working harder. It also gave me a real taste of what an Olympics could be like.”
A gold medal at the 2009 World Championships
After backing out of the 2008 Olympics due to injury, Jess wasn’t sure if she would ever compete again. But after intense rehab to switch her take-off legs for the long jump, she made it to the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. Yet again, Jess pulled a blinder and ended up winning her first gold medal.
“Winning this gold medal was obviously a massive high and a big turning point in my career because this was my first world title. Until you’ve won a gold medal at any championship, you’re still very much under the radar and not very well known.
“The thing that made it super special was the fact that I’d been forced to back out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics after developing three stress fractures in my right foot, which was also my take-off foot for both high jump and long jump.
“It was such a serious injury that my coach and I weren’t sure if I’d have to retire from athletics. It was absolutely devastating.
“Rehab was intense. It included retraining my take-off for long jump from my right to my left leg. It also meant I had to learn new movement patterns with my arms as – of course – everything was in reverse. Winning gold in Berlin after all that was massive for me!”
Hurdles at the 2012 Olympic Games in London
On the morning of Super Saturday, Jess stepped out into the Olympic stadium to hear the crowd roaring for her. The sun was shining, she was injury-free and jumping confidently off her right leg again. This was Jess’ moment…
“The sight and noise of the packed stadium was so exciting and gave me so much adrenaline. I felt like I put all that adrenaline into my race and ran the fastest time of my career over the hurdles – 12.54 seconds.
“My time would have won a gold medal in the individual hurdles event and it set a new world record. I felt so incredibly proud and it was such a buzz!”
It was such a serious injury that my coach and I weren’t sure if I’d have to retire from athletics
That London 2012 winning gold medal
Jess was the poster girl for the London 2012 Olympics so there was a lot of pressure on her to succeed. After all the adrenaline and excitement, she won her final event – the 800m – with this incredible moment!
“I remember coming round that last bend into the home straight on the final event, the 800m race, with my body filled with lactic acid, feeling just so exhausted – but I ran through it. I just wanted to cross that line and have that feeling of finishing first.
“Winning in London was my ultimate. It was everything I’d ever dreamt of and worked for. And it was a massive relief, too.
“I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders because I’d been so nervous and there was so much pressure to win – not just from me, but from the whole nation. I could hardly believe that I’d actually won and nothing had gone wrong.”
World Championships 2015 – a gold medal after having Reggie
Jess gave birth in July 2014 to her son, Reggie, then 13 months later was competing at the Beijing World Championships. She made it look easy but the training and pressure to get her there was anything but…
“Winning gold at the Beijing World Championships was definitely on a par with the Olympics for me. I honestly didn’t think I’d even make it there after having Reggie because I was faced with so many challenges physically and mentally, so it’s definitely one of my proudest moments.
“Having a new baby meant that I didn’t have time to be at the track for four or five hours a day, so instead I was coached for just two to three hours a day but with precision focus on what I needed. The training itself was incredibly hard because laxity caused by pregnancy hormones meant I wrestled with Achilles problems that even reared up during the competition itself.
“I actually ended up tearing my calf muscle near the end of the 800m. I felt it go and was in so much pain but I ran through it. There was no way I could stop – I just had to keep pushing on.”
A long jump personal best in 2016
The long jump was always Jess’ least favourite event, but she defeated her demons to scoop this PB in this Olympic-qualifying competition.
“The long jump had always been an event I’d battled with and was one of those disciplines where I just never properly hit my potential. Although I was very fast with a great spring, I couldn’t seem to marry those two things together to create a really big jump. Until this competition, that is…
“The year before I retired, it all came together when I jumped a personal best of 6.63m. It was so satisfying because it helped me feel that I’d done my absolute best and achieved my true long jump potential. It was a real confidence-booster.” Watch her long jump here.
Having a new baby meant that I didn’t have time to be at the track for four or five hours a day, so instead I was coached for just two to three hours a day but with precision focus on what I needed
Silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games
When Jess jetted off to the 2016 Rio Olympics, she also felt deep down that it would be her last competition ever….
“Competing in Rio was amazing. I was so excited to be at another Olympic games, especially after all the difficulties I’d had in training after having Reggie.
“At the same time, I knew it would probably be my last competition – and so also the last time I would work with my incredible team. That made it a particularly emotional experience.
“While a few things went wrong, I was absolutely over the moon to come away with silver. I was also happy to say, ‘Thank you, but I’m done now, time for something new.’”
Find out more about Jessica Ennis-Hill’s Jennis Fitness app here