En­nis-Hill tempted by last hur­rah in Lon­don

Bri­ton joy­fully re­joins fam­ily be­fore de­cid­ing on re­tire­ment – or home world cham­pi­onships

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - RIO 2016 - By Oliver Brown in Rio de Janeiro

For a woman who had made do with three hours’ sleep, Jes­sica En­nis-Hill still looked her usual sunny, bur­nished self. She had re­turned to the ath­letes’ vil­lage at 3am, ab­stemiously re­strict­ing her­self to a sin­gle glass of cham­pagne, but had yet to find a mo­ment to ap­pre­ci­ate the sil­ver medal in her hands.

On what should have been her first morn­ing off in months, she smiled oblig­ingly through a whirl of Rio ap­pear­ances to sat­isfy her spon­sors, turn­ing up ev­ery­where from a club on Ipanema Beach to a shopping mall in Barra da Ti­juca. It is all very well singing for your sup­per, but she had barely had break­fast.

The show was care­fully orches­trated by the Bri­tish team’s “head of manag­ing vic­tory” – yes, such a po­si­tion does ex­ist – though En­nis-Hill had, on this rare oc­ca­sion, fin­ished sec­ond. She had been van­quished not by her com­pa­triot, Kata­rina John­son-Thomp­son, but by Nafis­satou Thiam, 21, a stu­dent from Bel­gium and a 50-1 shot to claim hep­tathlon gold be­fore set­ting five per­sonal bests in seven dis­ci­plines.

“She was just on fire,” En­nis-Hill said, re­signedly. “I sup­pose she felt like I did in Lon­don four years ago, when ev­ery­thing just clicked.”

The reign­ing Olympic cham­pion had sensed her mo­ment had gone when Thiam, de­spite ap­par­ently nurs­ing a sore shoul­der, threw an as­ton­ish­ing 53.13 me­tres in the javelin, the penul­ti­mate event. It left En­nis-Hill with a stark equa­tion, need­ing to beat her unheralded ri­val by 9.47 sec­onds in the 800 me­tres if she was to re­tain her ti­tle. By co­in­ci­dence, their per­sonal bests for the dis­tance were pre­cisely 9.47sec apart, in the Bri­ton’s favour. It was, ul­ti­mately, too great a deficit.

En­nis-Hill pro­duced two laps of au­da­cious front-run- ning but Thiam re­fused to let her surge more than 7.47sec clear. Two sec­onds in two days: this was all that sep­a­rated her from another in­deli­ble mo­ment in the an­nals of Bri­tish sport. She re­fused to be too angst-rid­den yes­ter­day. “I hon­estly am not dis­ap­pointed,” she said. “I guess a sil­ver was what I was ca­pa­ble of at this stage of my ca­reer. I’m still very proud.”

The word that dared not speak its name was re­tire­ment. En­nis-Hill had claimed with some em­pha­sis that th­ese would be her fi­nal Olympics, but what no one quite knew yes­ter­day was whether they would rep­re­sent her last com­pe­ti­tion of any kind. As she pre­pared to fly back last night, ready to be re­united with her 18-month-old son Reg­gie, she ex­plained how she needed more time for reflection.

“I have a feel­ing in my mind about what I’m go­ing to do, but it’s such a huge de­ci­sion,” she said. “I want to make sure that it’s the right one.”

She did enough, to sug­gest, though, that she was con­tem­plat­ing car­ry­ing on for another year. Next sum­mer’s world cham­pi­onships are in Lon­don, back at the sta­dium where she savoured Olympic glory in 2012, and would sig­nify the per­fect send-off for an ath­lete who has al­ways had a taste for the the­atri­cal. “I don’t want just to fiz­zle out,” En­nis-Hill said, firmly. “I want to go out on a high.” She also let slip that the prospect of Lon­don 2017 was oc­clud­ing her think­ing, ac­knowl­edg­ing: “I would be sad to see it go­ing on with­out me.”

Toni Minichiello, En­nis-Hill’s long-time coach, likened his pro­tégé to Rocky Bal­boa, look­ing to see “if there was any­thing else left in the base­ment” be­fore call­ing it a day. “I don’t know what the fu­ture holds,” he said. “I’ve told her to take three months to have a good think about what she wants to do.”

What mat­tered most to En­nis-Hill yes­ter­day was that she was about to be brought back to­gether with Reg­gie, who had been watch­ing his mother’s ex­ploits from the fam­ily liv­ing room, 6,000 miles away in Sh­effield. “Andy, my hus­band, was say­ing to him, ‘ What has mummy been do­ing?’ He replied, ‘Run­ning, jump­ing, shot-putting.’ ”

It is this del­i­cate juggling act with fam­ily com­mit­ments that makes the is­sue of En­nis-Hill’s con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to the sport a com­plex one. She has spo­ken of her de­sire for a sec­ond child but ad­mit­ted that a big­ger brood would force her to give up the sav­age de­mands of hep­tathlon train­ing.

“Com­bin­ing the two has been a chal­lenge, but it has made ev­ery­thing so much sweeter, turned me into a more rounded per­son,” she said. “But it’s such a tough event. I was talk­ing to Bri­anne Theisen-Ea­ton, who won bronze, and the sub­ject was, ‘How much longer can we keep do­ing this?’ ”

For now, it is a question she is en­ti­tled to de­fer. At the end of an Olympic cam­paign that con­sumed her ev­ery wak­ing hour, her over­rid­ing emo­tion was one of re­lief that she was, fi­nally,

go­ing home.

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