Jessica Ennis’s awesome World Athletics Championships gold medal today has to be hailed as a triumph. Determination, concentration and dedication in a 5ft 4in package (that’s around 163cm) makes her the ultimate pocket rocket. She’s a multi-talented heptathlete and in terms of modern-day sportsmen and women, a titch. We’ve become so used to seeing Amazonian women bestriding various sporting arenas, (one former women’s Wimbledon champion this year commented that at 5ft 9in she feels tiny when she stands beside today’s players in the locker room). We’ve forgotten size isn’t everything.
At the same time, however, the web is littered with articles stating that athletes feel under pressure to stay slim, sometimes irrevocably damaging their future health, and sporting careers, in their quest for model-status and glory. Not hard to understand when you read the comments levelled at the tennis-playing Williams sisters, Serena heavier and shorter, and Venus, taller and rangier, but winners, both, though their WTA personal statistics would suggest an unashamed penchant for fiction in certain quarters. How refreshing to read in Easy Living last month that world-beating British cyclist Victoria Pendleton wishes her thighs were bigger. She doesn’t care if she has to go up a jean size to accommodate her quest for sporting gold.
But I digress. I unreservedly applaud Ennis and I sat staring cheesily at the television screen as she took her rivals on in every discipline and led the heptathlon competition from start to finish this weekend. But while I know about plyometric training, fast-twitch muscles and explosive power, and that muscle size doesn’t equate to strength, (look at Jonathan Edwards’s skinny pins when he was at the height of his career). While I know all about the power of self-belief, which clearly Ennis has in spades, I just have to point out that if I were a six-foot tall (183cm) female British high-jumper, with the usual build for this discipline, I’d be hopping up and down in shame that someone so small could jump so much higher than me, both in real and in relative terms. Ennis holds the UK high jump record at 1.95m – that’s a standard ruler length above her head height. If any of our six-foot-tall female high jumpers packed that much oomph into their jumps they’d be the world, let alone the British, record holder – since 1987 it has stood at 2.09 metres (6 ft 10.28 in). Either high jump isn’t as glamorous as heptathlon or else our rising talent is still in development. The UK Athletics site has a blank where the female high jumpers should be.
The 2012 Olympics beckons both male and female sports heroes and I’m hoping there will be plenty of people in a British vest to cheer about. I’m already planning which athletics events I’d like to go and see in the new London Olympic stadium. Jessica Ennis will be on the top of my list – can the rest of the team match her prowess?
© Sandra Fraser