Jessica Ennis leads GB's Olympics athletics medal charge

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer at the Olympic Park

Jessica Ennis opens the British athletics medal charge in the Olympic Stadium on Friday as the team seek to double their haul from Beijing.

Then they returned with four medals, but head coach Charles van Commenee has confirmed the target in London is eight - with at least one gold.

"We are ready to strike," he said.

"We have been consistent in our target over the last four years and if we are successful, it would be a huge boost for British athletics."

Ennis is the first of the so-called 'Fab Four' of the team - the others being Dai Greene, Mo Farah and Phillips Idowu - to compete, starting her quest for heptathlon gold with the 100m hurdles, one of her strongest events, and high jump before the 200m in Friday's evening session.

She said: "I think Great Britain as a whole can be really successful - from what I've seen training-wise and throughout the year, we're looking in great shape.

"Having a home crowd and the Olympics as a huge occasion is just going to bring out some extra performances in all of us. I think it looks really promising.

"The mood in the camp is really good. It's nice to be here finally with the whole team - everyone is feeling very positive and really looking forward to it."

Although Ennis won World gold in Berlin in 2009 and followed it up with the European title a year later in Barcelona, this will be her first experience of the Olympic Games; four years ago, a stress fracture of her foot suffered two months before Beijing cost her a debut.

This time she is one of the most high-profile athletes from any sport at the Games and the most visible British athlete on billboards around the city despite the fact that current world champion Tatyana Chernova is marginal favourite for gold with bookmakers.

Ennis said: "I'm so proud. It hasn't really kicked in but I'm obviously very excited to finally be an Olympian.

"I think it will be similar to the Worlds and Europeans - I want to go there and perform my best that I can, take one event at a time and stay focused. If I do that then I can't have any regrets.

"I really enjoyed watching [road race silver medallist] Lizzie Armitstead - the way she went out so strong, despite the weather being horrendous, and then seeing how happy she was afterwards having hung on for that medal.

"We have been watching on television - it all looks absolutely brilliant, with the crowd getting behind everyone.

"I think when you see someone performing well in the team it gives you that extra edge and feeling that you want to perform just as well, and keep that ball rolling."

Team captain Greene, crowned world champion a year ago in Daegu, begins his own campaign in the 400m hurdles heats on Friday evening having made what Ennis called an "inspiring" speech to the squad at their training camp in Portugal.

He said: "I mentioned my journey over the past few years and spoke about others who weren't so successful and had not made the Games. I stressed that we needed to make the most of this opportunity.

"I can't wait to see the crowd. I can see the stadium from my apartment and it's fantastic to have that sight in the distance."

Greene has been closing the gap on his rival Javier Culson in their last two Diamond League meets and, having beaten the Puerto Rican in the final few strides at the Worlds, is in quietly confident mood.

He said: "I'm not going there thinking 'do you know, an Olympic bronze would look nice on my mantelpiece'. I'm one tenth off the fastest time in the world this year and I'm in with a shot.

"I've not beaten Culson this year but I've beaten him before when it's mattered and I'll have huge support inside the stadium."

Farah will be aiming to add Olympic gold to the World 5,000m gold and 10,000m silver he won last summer, with the final of the longer distance on Saturday evening and the shorter one a week later.

Phillips Idowu
With just days to go until his competition, triple jumper Idowu has gone to ground

While Farah's form has been immensely encouraging in the past few months, confusion continues over what shape 2008 Olympic silver medallist Idowu is in.

The triple jumper has not been seen in competition since the start of June and Van Commenee revealed earlier this week that he has no idea if he will even turn up to the Olympic Village.

He said: "First, he has to show up - and we don't know when he will. When he shows up, where he sleeps, we have no idea.

"I'm perplexed really that, in the last few weeks before the Games, he turns his back on us."

Britain have other serious medal contenders in reigning 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, world indoor triple jump gold medallist Yamile Aldama, high jumper Robbie Grabarz and long jumpers Greg Rutherford and Shara Proctor.

Pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale, one-lap hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton, young discus thrower Lawrence Okoye and the women's 4x400m relay team also have a shot at the podium.

Van Commenee said his pre-Games speech to the team centred on whether success is a journey or destination. "Prepare for the opportunity, not the pressure," he told them.

That opportunity is now upon them.


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