Authors: Jessica Ennis
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Sports
First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Jessica Ennis 2012
The right of Jessica Ennis to be
identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
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A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 444 76861 9
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
To Team Ennis, my family, friends and
The people who never stopped believing in me,
who inspired me and who have dedicated so much
of their time to making my dreams become a reality.
I have so many people to thank and I am so grateful to all those people for their help and support along the road to my Olympic gold, and if you are not mentioned in this book, you will know who you are and the part you played.
Above all I would like to thank my parents, Alison and Vinnie, and my sister, Carmel, for all their love and support. And of course I could not forget Grandad and Grandma, who are amongst my biggest fans, and Uncle Terry! I couldn’t have done it without you.
Also a big thank you to all of my good friends who have helped keep my feet on the ground and love me for who I am.
Chell – what can I say – you have done a great job, always believed in me and made me laugh and cry along the way.
To the rest of Team Ennis – Mick, Bricey, Derry, Ali, Steve and everyone else who gave me their time and commitment on the performance side.
And Jane and Suzi who looked after me away from the track helping me balance my other commitments. To my sponsors who helped me both on the track and off – thank you.
Thanks to Roddy Bloomfield and Sarah Hammond at Hodder & Stoughton for helping bring this book together, as well as Eleni Lawrence, Lucy Zilberkweit, Laura Del Vescovo and Alasdair Oliver.
And to Rick Broadbent for his support over the years and for helping me tell my story, and to Graham Hughes for capturing my story of the past four years in pictures.
Finally, to Andy who has truly been the one who has held my hand through the last eight years and whose support, love and advice has been invaluable.
Oh and how could I forget Myla, my labrador, who has been the best distraction when I most needed it.
The author and publisher would like to thank Graham Hughes for his photography.
Alexis Armanet, Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images, Gareth Copley/PA Archive/Press Association Images, Mark Dadswell/Getty Images, Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage, Stu Forster/Getty Images, Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive/Press Association Images, Alastair Grant/AP/Press Association Images, Daniel Kennedy/danielkennedy.com, Kohjiro Kinno/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images, Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for Aviva, Andy Lyons/Getty Images, Mike Marsland/WireImage, Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images, Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images, Dieter Nagl/AFP/Getty Images, Winfried Rothermel/AP/Press Association Images, Rick Rycroft/AP/Press Association Images, Sheffield Star/Ross Parry Sindication, Michael Steele/Getty Images, John Stillwell/PA Archive/Press Association Images, Paul Thomas/Getty Images, Yorkshire Post/Ross Parry Sindication.
All other photographs are from private collections.
his is the day that I have dreamt about for years. This has been what all that dying on the side of a track has been about. This is the end of the raging pain. This is my one opportunity. My one shot. Walking into this arena is an assault on the senses – the purple and green and red, the crescendo of noise and the haze at the end of the straight where the Olympic flame is burning bright. This is it. This is my chance. I cannot help thinking that if it goes wrong I will never get this opportunity again. I might make another Olympics, but it won’t be at home and I won’t be touted as the face of the Games again. This combination of circumstances will never arise again. It is my first time and my last chance. Finally I realize just how big and scary the Olympic Games are. I follow the other girls to the start and we get into our blocks. It’s like that Eminem song goes: one opportunity to seize everything you want. Will I capture the moment or let it slip?
It has taken me sixteen years to get here. Now I have seven events and two days to make it worthwhile. There have been countless times when I have wondered if it would happen. I have been down, broken and almost out, but I have dragged myself back from the brink. Part of me wonders how this has happened. I am just an ordinary girl from a run-of-the-mill street in Sheffield and yet I have been plucked out of that normality and plunged into this melting pot of hopes and dreams and fierce competition. It is what I have wanted when I have been training every day, but it is frightening.
I feel adrenaline, excitement and fear. I have lost my crowns in the last year and there are bigger, stronger girls ready to push me around. Tatyana Chernova is the world champion. Nataliya Dobrynska is the Olympic champion. I have no titles, just one shot. We crouch and the roar drops to total silence. It is that special moment of bated breath and possibility. And then suddenly, in those seconds before the gun, I feel a strange calmness wash over me and I am ready. It is now or never.
am crying. I am a Sheffield schoolgirl writing in her diary about the bullies awaiting me tomorrow. They stand menacingly by the gates and lurk unseen in my head, mocking my size and status. They make a small girl shrink, and I feel insecure and frightened. I pour the feelings out into words on the page, as if exposing them in some way will help, but nobody sees my diary. It is kept in my room as a hidden tale of hurt.
Fast forward two decades and I am crying again. I am standing in a cavernous arena in London. Suddenly, the pain and suffering and frustration give way to a flood of overwhelming emotion. In the middle of this enormous arena I feel smaller than ever, but I puff out my chest, look to the flag and stand tall. It has been a long and winding road from the streets of Sheffield to the tunnel that feeds into the Olympic Stadium like an artery.
I am Jessica Ennis. I have been called many things, from tadpole to poster girl, but I have had to fight to make that progression. I smile and am polite and so people think it comes easily, but it doesn’t. I am not one of those athletes who slap their thighs and snarl before a competition, but there is a competitive animal inside, waiting to get out and fight for survival and recognition. Cover shoots and billboards are nice, but they are nothing without the work and I have left blood, sweat and tears on tracks all over the world. It is an age where young people are fed ideas of quick-fix fame and instant celebrity, but the tears mean more if the journey is hard. So I don’t cry crocodile tears; I cry the real stuff.
I was a scrawny baby. That is no surprise. I have spent a lot of my life dealing with remarks about my size, both flippant and more calculated, so it was fitting that I weighed just 6 lb 8 oz when I was born in Nether Edge Hospital in Sheffield. The hospital used to be a workhouse for the Sheffield poor and much of it has now been turned into flats, with only a mental health unit surviving, but it was still flourishing when I arrived on 28 January 1986.
My mum and dad had not known each other very long before they had me. They took me back to Nether Edge, a mixed area where good bits nestled against mean streets, and I shared our house with chickens, cats, dogs and the parrot that my dad had felt sorry for when he saw it in a shop window one day.
My dad, Vinnie, was born in 1951 and is fourteen years older than my mum, Alison. He moved here from Jamaica in 1963, when he was twelve, following his parents who had emigrated looking for employment two years earlier. They were hard times for him. He was dealing with the emotional upheaval of leaving the Caribbean for England, and soon after found himself living with his grandparents when his mum and dad went to the USA. It is hard to imagine that happening now, but they were different times and my grandparents had to follow the work. It meant Dad and his brother, Uncle Danny, stayed here and had to deal with a new life without their parents to turn to for help.
My dad still misses Jamaica, but this is his home now and has been for most of his life. Occasionally, he will drift back in time and talk about how deeply miserable he was when he arrived, with the beaches and blue skies replaced by an unremitting greyness. ‘Everything was dull and cold,’ he says. The 1960s was also an era when racism was more prevalent. He does not talk about that side of his life much, but I know he must have gone through some bad times, and he has mentioned how he once went to buy a house, only for the owner to decide he did not fancy the idea of selling to a black man.
I think it may have been a shock for my grandparents, too, when he started going out with Mum after meeting her in a Sheffield pub in 1984. Mum was a rebel, a wild child, all naughtiness and dyed pink hair. When she was fourteen, she collected what money she had and went to stay overnight at a friend’s house. Unbeknown to my grandparents, they had a grand plan and made their way to the coast where they took a ferry to France and stayed there until the cash ran out. It is that streak which makes her say to me sometimes: ‘I’m sure you are adopted.’ We are similar in lots of ways, but she was a troublemaker.
She was born in 1965 in Derbyshire and brought up in the countryside there with her brother Richard. Although she and Dad both hailed from farming backgrounds, the differences will initially have been far more obvious to my grandparents. Here was my mum, already a handful and difficult to contain, and now there was Dad, too, not only an older man but also a black one. Living out in the country, where the pace of change is slower, it must have been an eye-opener for them, although as soon as they got to know Dad, they warmed to him, and now they love him as much as they do Mum.
Mum’s adventurous nature meant she wanted to get away from the country as quickly as possible. It also might have had something to do with my parents never getting married. As time went on, they just didn’t see the need.
We moved houses a few times because money was tight and we downsized. Then Mum got pregnant again in 1988 and I remember us sitting on a bare living-room floor, her with a big bump, rolling a ball back and forth as Dad helped the removal men drag the furniture into our new home on Highfield Place, the place where I would spend most of my childhood.
My dad made his living from painting and decorating. He was self-employed and later fitted work around taking care of me and my sister. I have a vivid memory of me and Dad painting the walls of the bathroom for when Mum came home from hospital. Then I was taken to my grandparents while Dad went to be with Mum. The call finally came through that I had a sister and they were naming her Carmel. I was thrilled. When they brought this new baby back I was like any toddler, treating her as a personal plaything and always wanting to hold her, but as time went on and I realized I was not the centre of undivided attention, as I had been for the past three years, the relationship changed, gradually deteriorating into a teenage war zone.