Beijing Stories: Reflections on the Heptathlon, by Alex Mills


Ennis_Jessica800m-World15.JPgJessica Ennis-Hill, enroute in 800 meters, August 23, 2015, photo by

The heptathlon was a battle over seven events by two dozen competitors. In speaking with Coach Toni Minichielo, who coaches the gold medalist, he put it succinctly: " you see how your athlete can add points, but you never know how the other athletes will do."

Ennis_JessicaLJ1a-Beijing15.JPG Jessica Ennis-Hill, photo by

Now that it's well and truly over and done with, I think it's time for us to admit what an emotional roller coaster that heptathlon was!

Never before in one competition have so many athletes' fortunes twisted and turned quite as much as they did here to leave the viewers feeling nauseous and the majority of the competitors emotionally unstable.

Though you could say that this was a vintage competition in terms of talking points, the final totals were not what we might of expected from this field. Nor was the inconsistency that we saw.

Almost every athlete, including victor Jessica Ennis-Hill, must have come away from yesterday's competition not knowing quite what to think of their performances.

Sure the Olympic champion was rightfully delighted after one of the greatest comebacks in track history, as she won gold just 13 months after giving birth. Yet despite improving on her score from Gotzis by a massive 145 points and registering so many SB's, with a year to go until Rio 2016 she will know that she can still do so much better.

"I've got a weird feeling of slight disappointment because I just feel I could be better but I know that's just going to take time and it's not going to happen this year." she said after day one.

While the Olympic champion showed magnificent steel to stay consistent and focused on the task throughout, as her rivals wilted in the absence of the composure and luck, the story of the event was almost as much about the perils of Ennis-Hill's rivals as it was her success.

After all, she even admitted post-race that coming into the competition she had never imagined she would end up at the top of the podium: "This is definitely one of the greatest moments of my career, I still can't believe it. Me and Toni (Minichiello) spoke about coming here, and we only wanted to come if I was able to compete for a medal. We spoke about the bronze medal and that it would be amazing for a silver medal, but we never spoke about gold. I kind of thought it was a little beyond me this year."

Contrast her situation with that of Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who may have ended the contest with a smile on her face after she claimed the silver medal, but whom left us with no doubt in the mix zone just how tough the last two days had been for her after missing a golden opportunity to win her first global title: "I've spent this whole two days in tears." she admitted.

Theisen_Brianna800m-World15.JPgBrianne Theisen-Eaton, photo by

"I'm exhausted, I've never been this tired, I think it's just the mental up and down of it all!"

"After the first day I was in tears, I thought have a good nights sleep and everything will be okay, I woke up in the morning and it didn't feel any different, it was just a lack of confidence." she said

Having come into the competition as the favourite after her fabulous 6808 in Gotzis, Theisen-Eaton suffered from a combination of nerves, niggles and stress to lose more than 250 points from her tally in Austria.

Despite struggling in the high jump and being slightly down on her best in the shot put, she remained in contention going into the 200, only for further disappointment to leave her feeling down and out.

"It was the 200m that ended it all." she said "I felt great in my warm up, my training has been phenomenal, I'm not sick, I wasn't hurt, the conditions were perfect and I didn't run well. I kept saying why? What happened? What Happened? We didn't have an answer and that was when I was just like what is going on?"

"Waking up this morning (day two) I was terrified that I was going to come out in the long jump give it my best effort and it was just going to suck and then be even more defeated."

Though things didn't go perfectly on day two either, it wasn't to be the disaster the Commonwealth champion had feared, as she held herself together despite the development of a groin injury in the javelin, to ensure she would finish with the consolation of another silver medal.

Johnson_KatarinaLJ11-Beijing15.JPGKaterina Johnson-Thompson, photo by

Which will seem even more bittersweet when put in perspective by the greater disappointments suffered by the likes of Katerina Johnson-Thompson, Nadine Broerson and Nadine Visser, all of whom came away with nothing despite having been even better position during the competition.

So as she answered the question of how she felt she and Johnson-Thompson would respond to their disappointments to recover for a tile tilt at Rio 2016, the sentiments she gave in fact applied on a far more generic basis to all of her competitors.

"Obviously she [Johnson-Thompson] is doing the same thing that I am; regrouping, analysing, making sure she doesn't make the same mistake for next year. So that next year will just be a solid duel and where everyone will be on their game and the real winner will come out with the gold medal, that's what the Olympics is all about."

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