Sports Personality of the Year: Why Jessica Ennis should win
Each of the 12 Sports Personality of the Year contenders has an advocate explaining why they should win. Here, double Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson backs the London 2012 heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.
With British sporting history freshly rewritten after this remarkable past 12 months, it can sometimes be near impossible to recall, all these cold weeks later, quite how much tension, expectation and apprehension surrounded the moments that brought such greatness.
Nowhere were those burdens more evident than in London's Olympic Stadium on the very first morning of competition. On no-one did they fall more heavily than Jessica Ennis as she crouched in the blocks for the opening battle in her heptathlon campaign.
Poster girl. Face of the Games. Britain's best hope for an athletics gold.
In those quiet seconds, as the August sun shone and 80,000 partisans in the crowd fell silent while countless others fidgeted in front of televisions and laptops at home, you suddenly understood how extraordinary the pressures on this diminutive 26-year-old truly were.
Ennis's golden Games
- Finest moment: Producing a huge personal best of 12.54 seconds in the 100m hurdles on the first morning of competition, the fastest time in heptathlon history
- Historical context: Ennis's tally of 6,995 points was the highest winning total at the Olympics for 20 years
- In her own words: "I can't believe I've done it. I've done it!"
To see Ennis then explode away and record the fastest 100m hurdles ever run in a heptathlon - a new personal best by a remarkable 0.25 seconds - was to witness rare fortitude under immense duress, singular talent at its carefully honed peak.
Over the next two days, Ennis would never relent. With the sort of support seldom experienced anywhere in track and field, let alone multi-events, she jumped, threw and ran to a victory as emphatic as anything that the Stratford stadium would see.
Daley Thompson, twice Olympic decathlon champion and the finest all-round athlete of his generation, was watching every moment from the stands.
"The more events you do, the more chance there is of things going wrong," he told BBC Sport. "In a competition as high-class as an Olympic Games, you cannot afford to slip up once. Jess had seven things to do, and seven things to do well, and she did them brilliantly.
"That was one of the great things about her overall performance: she was one of the few athletes at the Games to have gone out there and produced a personal best under the brightest possible spotlight.
"She had to contend with so much in the build-up to London - getting beaten at the 2011 Worlds, people talking about her as the champion for 18 months beforehand.
"This was also her first Olympics, because she missed Beijing with injury. To come out and produce a series of displays as she did proved that her preparations had been spot on, that her coach Toni Minichiello had done everything he could, that her head was in the right place.
"For her to get the start that she got really set the tone. Quite clearly, for everyone to see, she demonstrated that she was the most ready she'd ever been."
In the fine print of Ennis's performance were the most impressive details. She conjured up PBs in three of her seven events, found a season's best in another and, with her overall tally of 6,995 points, not only smashed Denise Lewis's national record but went fifth on the global all-time list.
That remarkable display in the hurdles also means that she now holds two individual British records (high jump being the other) as well as the multi-event mark. So fast was the run that it equalled the time clocked by Dawn Harper in winning the Olympic 100m hurdles title in Beijing.
Such scores speak of dominance and ease. They should not. Ennis arrived in London having come off second best in both spring's World Indoors and the previous summer's World Championships.
Tatyana Chernova took one of those global titles, reigning Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska the other. Both too have quintessential multi-eventer frames, long of lever and big on power. Ennis, by contrast, has to produce more from less.
Contenders on Twitter
* Katherine Grainger and Bradley Wiggins do not have Twitter accounts
"If you were designing the perfect size for the multi-eventer, you wouldn't design Jess," says Thompson. "For her to succeed with what God has given her illustrates not only her determination and hard work but also how well she works with her coach.
"The set-back [at the World Championships] in Daegu was probably one of the best things that could have happened to her. She had to think long and hard about what she could do to improve, what changes she should make. It meant she went into 2012 with a slight underdog mentality, and that will always keep you focused.
"It was a big ask if she hadn't had a really good winter. But she had a fantastic winter. She worked brutally hard, stayed fit and corrected the few mistakes she had. She was ready."
On that first day Ennis followed her hurdles heroics with a 1.86m high jump, 14.28m shot and sizzling 22.83 secs 200m. Throughout it all she appeared both resolutely chipper and preternaturally calm, smiling and waving after each success as if genuinely enjoying every sunlit second.
The big tests were to come. Her long jump had been a struggle all summer, her javelin the weakness that cost her the world title the previous year.
In both she would deliver in emphatic style. A shaky first-round jump was followed by one of 6.48m; in the final round of the javelin, she landed a PB of 47.49m, eight metres up on her best effort in South Korea last summer.
"Jesse knew she was going really well, and she did exactly the right thing in focusing entirely on each event she was doing, rather than the overall picture," explains Thompson.
"What you do is this: you remind yourself that you've had so many good throws in training that you don't need to look at the negative. You tell yourself: 'If I get one good one now, it's over.'
Last 10 winners
- 2011: Mark Cavendish (cycling)
- 2010: Tony McCoy (horse racing)
- 2009: Ryan Giggs (football)
- 2008: Sir Chris Hoy (cycling)
- 2007: Joe Calzaghe (boxing)
- 2006: Zara Phillips (Equestrian)
- 2005: Andrew Flintoff (cricket)
- 2004: Dame Kelly Holmes (athletics)
- 2003: Jonny Wilkinson (rugby union)
- 2002: Paula Radcliffe (athletics)
"You relax yourself by telling yourself that this throw is no big deal. That's one of the key things that training like Jess's gives you - it steels you for the tests ahead.
"The big moment for her was standing on the start line for the 800m. If you're not experienced, and if you're not in control of your emotions, that point can be an absolute rollercoaster.
"But she was in charge, and she delivered. She put the whole event together, but I loved her 800m."
Ennis knew her lead was virtually insurmountable, yet went to the front at the bell. When Chernova and Germany's Lilli Schwarzkopf came past her on the back straight, she still had gold secured.
She wanted more. Off the top bend she went again, kicking hard to accelerate away and take the Olympic title in fitting style - out in front, out on her own.
"She wanted to finish off as she started - even though she didn't have to win it, she just refused to be beaten," says Thompson.
"It's one of reasons why I believe she can go on and do even better: she has that fierce competitive spirit that all top athletes require.
"For now, Jess is easily the best multi-event athlete in the world, and that's exactly what she set out to be."