JESSICA Ennis offered her heartfelt thanks to the people of Sheffield for their support - as she and her fellow athletes prepare to head to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
The World and European heptathlon gold medallist appeared at the Peace Gardens for the Olympians’ official send-off - and promised to do her best to make the city proud.
“I’m so excited now, I honestly can’t believe how quickly the Games are coming around,” said the 26-year-old.
“The people of Sheffield have been amazing these last months, always asking how training’s going, and offering encouraging words.”
Nearly 2,000 people turned out to see Jessica and other Sheffield athletes including diver Nick Robinson-Baker, paralympian swimmer James Crisp, and volleyball team member Keiran O’Malley.
Torchbearer Tina English, aged 56, from Rotherham, who led the stars onstage, said: “I couldn’t believe I was standing on stage next to Jess Ennis!
“I asked her to stand in front of me because all the cameras were pointing at us. She’s incredibly petite!”
Tina found out she would be leading the athletes on only an hour before the event, after she was invited to tea with the Lord Mayor to share her torchbearing experience.
“Being a torchbearer was so exciting, then to be in the Peace Gardens in front of a crowd like that with all those athletes was amazing,” she said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Jess told the crowd training is going well, and she’s eager now for the Games to begin.
“All of us - the athletes of Sheffield - are so proud of where we come from,” she said. “We’re ready to go down to the capital, do what we’ve trained so hard for, and see what we can bring back to the city for you.”
Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun John Campbell, said: “Seeing all these fantastic athletes here really brings home the impact Sheffield is having on the Olympic Games 2012.
“One in seven of the Great Britain team is either from Sheffield or have trained here - incredible.
“Hopefully we’ll see them all back here towards the end of the summer with their gold medals.”
Nick Robinson-Baker from British diving said: “I was there in Bejiing at the Olympics and it was the most incredible experience of my life to date.
“Athletes like us train our whole lives for the Olympics and for the Games to be in London, our capital, is incredible.
“I’ve been living and training in Sheffield for seven years now and the back-up here is incredible. We want to thank everyone here for their support.”
City of Sheffield club paralympian swimmer James Crisp said: “It takes a lot of training to get to this point, it’s a full time job.
“Ten sessions a week, two hours a time in the pool, then lots of land work too - it’s quite painful. But it will all be worth it when we get to London.”
And Keiran O’Malley, setter for the British volleyball team, talked to the crowd about his time studying at The University of Sheffield.
“It was such a great time for me, they were very supportive of my sport which is really helpful for any athlete,” he said. “I love this city.”
The event rounded off a hectic couple of days as South Yorkshire celebrated the historic visit of the Olympic torch. Thousands lined every route throughout Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster.
“The crowds who turned out to see the torch and support the torchbearers were fantastic,” said Olympic sprint legend Dorothy Hyman, who carried the torch through Lundwood, Barnsley.
Barnsley cricket umpire Dickie Bird was among those who witnessed the famous spectacle make its way through his hometown on Monday.
“I never had any doubt we’d give the torch anything less than a real Yorkshire welcome,” he told The Star.
“Whatever the occasion, the people of South Yorkshire always turn out and support. We know how to party,” he grinned.