Originally published 20/02/13
On 4 August 2012 Jessica Ennis kicked off what some described as the greatest night in British sporting history. For her it was the end of a long, winding, and sometimes harrowing road. Nobody was under more pressure at the London Olympics than ‘the face of the Games’. Yet Jessica delivered the heptathlon gold medal, and the huge outpouring of relief she showed afterwards hinted at the roller-coaster journey she had been on. Behind the smiles and politeness, Jessica has endured much. Bullied at school for being small, she proved to critics and rivals alike that size really didn’t matter. Hers is an inspiring tale of following your dreams no matter what life throws at you. In 2008 Jessica thought her career might be over when she was injured on the eve of the Olympic Games in Beijing. But she overcame this setback to rebuild her career and technique, becoming the world and European champion in successive years. Her biggest test was yet to come, though, when her rivals overhauled her in the build-up to London. Unbelievable is a refreshingly candid account of her rise to fame in a highly charged world in which body image issues and drug abuses lurk. From the unique pressures facing her, to behind-the-scenes glimpses into the greatest show on earth, and a revealing account of her love-hate relationship with her long-term coach, Jessica reveals the truth behind the smiles for the first time. Unbelievable includes exclusive behind-the-scenes photos. This is the story of how the girl next door became London’s poster girl, and how an ordinary woman used an extraordinary talent to claim the title of the world’s greatest all-round female sports star.
Those of you who have been following the blog or my Twitter feed for a while, certainly since last August, will know that I became wrapped up in a certain little event that was held in London called the Olympic Games.
As part of the whole post-Olympic bounce, I decided to buy, and read, the biographies of some of the prominent athletes in Team GB, including Jessica Ennis.
“Unbelievable” very much sticks to the standard fare of sports biographies by tracing Jessica’s life from her childhood in Sheffield, through her starting steps on the road which led her to the Olympics as means, by her mother, to give her something to do, through her career as a competitive athlete, and, finally, to the realisation of her work by winning Olympic Gold in the Heptathlon.
Jessica’s writing comes across as honest and modest, if somewhat safe. If you want a book that dishes the dirt on the world of competitive athletics, this will not be the book for you.
However, this does not means that she completely avoids the tough subjects as she discusses issues such as childhood bullying, the use of banned performance enhancing substances within athletics, the issues of eating disorders and body image, the perils of injury to an athlete’s career, and the pressures of media interest, most prominently in her role as “The Face of the Olympics”.
Throughout the book, she is quick to say that her success is based on hard, exacting work, along with her support network of “Team Ennis” – the most prominent member being her coach, Toni “Chell” Minichiello, who she admits to having a professional relationship akin to a bickering old married couple, her family and her fiance, Andy.
Given the book is just over 200 pages in length, it is a rather dense read with a lot of information which led me to read it with a lot of breaks. However, Jessica’s writing really does score when she writes about specific events with an emotional depth which carries the reader along to experience it as she does… with the benefit of the lack of pain in having to do the events themselves.
There is the usual facts and figures section at the back of the book charting Jessica’s professional records along with a beautiful photo section showing a balance of her personal and professional lives.
If you’re into athletics, or sport in general, I would recommend this book as one to try as the author comes across as engaging and somebody who loves her work as a professional athlete.