Life has changed a lot for Jessica Ennis-Hill, the golden girl of British athletics, since she won gold at London in 2012. She has taken time off, suffered injuries, got married and had a son. With her Rio Olympics over, it is changing again.
On Saturday night, she lost her Olympic heptathlon crown to Belgium’s Nafi Thiam. But reflecting on Sunday, she said was proud and happy to have won the silver medal and now it was time for a break, for celebrations, and to think about the future.
“It was just really hard days of competition. I just did everything I could over those seven events over two days and it wasn’t quite enough for the gold medal. I’m just very happy with our performances. Obviously I would have loved to defend my title but I knew it was a tall ask.”
Ennis-Hill, 30, said she was still undecided on when to retire.
“Obviously it was quite emotional last night but I am in two minds about whether to call it a day and retire now or perhaps go a little bit longer, but that was my last Olympics. It was just an amazing feeling and also quite a sad feeling that I won’t have another Olympics.”
“I’m definitely moving to that stage of my life where things are changing. I have so many years doing this sport and so many years at the top. I would never have imagined I would have achieved what I have at this stage and won the medals that I have. So it’s a nice position to be in and I’m looking forward to the future.”
Speaking at the Omega House villa overlooking an Ipanema beach packed with Sunday crowds, she said she hoped to see a little bit more of Rio, but was heading home soon to celebrate with family.
Ennis-Hill would have been the first British female track and field athlete to win consecutive Olympic titles had she won. She led after the first day but dropped back after Saturday’s long jump. She won the last discipline of the event, the 800m, but not by enough to overtake Thiam, who scored five personal bests.
“I can go back and analyse all the different events and think ‘Oh, if I had done a bit there, got two more points there.’ You know it was won by the better athlete on the two days and Thiam performed out of her skin. She thoroughly deserved that gold medal.”
Ennis-Hill, who is still the reigning world champion, looked relaxed and glowing and it was easy to see why she has become such a popular figure with the British public. While she is a familiar face in advertisements, she said she did not see herself as a celebrity. “I think I’m a sportswoman at the end of the day.”
Asked about the difference for her between the London Games and Rio, she said her approach to London had been “tunnel vision”.
“More training and competing and not thinking about anything else. It was a unique run-up to the Games… being the poster girl and having all that kind of pressure and expectation, but it was an incredible journey.”
“This time it’s been completely different. Life is different. I’ve had some time away from the sport, I’ve had injuries, got married, had my son, so life is very different, but really just a unique and amazing journey to this Olympics as well.
Motherhood had changed everything, she said. Her son Reggie was born in 2014. “I’m definitely a more rounded person.”
“All my training now fits totally around my son. I make sure that he’s taken care of. I train in the morning then I’m at home in the afternoon, then do sessions in the evening once I put him to bed. Everything is catered around his needs. So training has had to adapt, but you know it would have had to adapt anyway. I’m an older athlete and the body can’t take the volume anymore.”
She said she wanted to stay involved in sport and fitness after she retired. For now though, she said: “I’ve had an incredible time here and enjoyed every moment of competing.”