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Jess has the X-Factor

Jessica Ennis is Britain's golden girl but she will have to prepare for intense media attention in the run up to London 2012 (This image is the property of The Independent)

At just 24 years of age, Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis has the athletics world at her feet. Last week she added the European Heptathlon championship to the world title she won in Berlin last summer, setting a new personal best and championship record in the process.

In modern-day sport, there are certain characteristics that make somebody a star; Ennis has them all. Firstly, and most importantly, she is exceptionally good at what she does. She is after all, the world champion. Crucially, she realises that this comes above all else. She is dedicated to her chosen career and understands that success on the track is integral to any success she may enjoy otherwise. Secondly, she is an attractive girl which never harms an athlete’s chances as far as endorsements are concerned. Thirdly, she is extremely likeable. She is a smiley character devoid of ego or bad attitude (Mark Lewis-Francis take note). Jessica Ennis is fast becoming the nation’s sporting darling.

These are all elements more or less within her control, but she also looks set to benefit from circumstances over which she has no influence. In short, the stars seem to be aligning for Jessica Ennis as she may just be the right person in the right place at the right time.

 It is not often that Britain gets the opportunity to host a major, global sporting event, but in 2012 the world’s greatest sporting extravaganza (with the possible exception of the World Cup) is coming to London and as far as Ennis is concerned, the timing could not be better. The country will be looking for a ‘face’ of the games and Ennis’s status as a leading heptathlete, coupled with her looks, make her perfect for the role. Michael Johnson was the poster boy for the Atlanta games in 1996 and it was interesting to listen to him speak to Ennis in the BBC studio in Barcelona. Recognising that she was in the presence of an athletics legend and somebody with great experience, she hung on to his every word. He spoke of his own experience from those games including the fact that somebody called him asking for tickets on the day of one of his finals and warned Ennis that the added responsibility and expectation at home must not become detrimental to the bread and butter task of winning races. During the conversation, she intimated that she is now having to juggle training and competing with increased commercial commitments, but so far, she is doing a good job. It will be turned up several notches as 2012 nears as she has the chance to become a golden girl in her home country and she will have to deal with it as Johnson himself did. It should be noted however that she seems level-headed and has a good team around her, including a close-knit family. She also took the added responsibility of being Team GB’s captain at the European Championships in her stride which bodes well.

However, before 2012 comes round, there are the World Championships next year in Daegu where the 24 year old will look to defend her title. If she can, she will cement her place as one of the sport’s elite performers and her stock will rise further.

There is of course one potentially huge spanner that could be thrown in to the works; injury. It is always a possibility with top athletes as their bodies are fine tuned to the extreme and it can either force them out of competition altogether or lead to sub-par performances (see Usain Bolt this week). Ennis knows this better than anyone having been forced to sit out the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with stress fractures in her foot. If she can steer clear of any such issues both in the run up to and during the games in 2012, she has an excellent chance of winning gold on home soil and catapulting herself in to the upper echelons of sporting stardom in Britain, and who knows, maybe the world. With talent, looks and a media-friendly personality, Jess has the X-Factor.

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