Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis-Hill remains confident she will be in good shape to defend her Olympic title despite only just returning to training following an Achilles injury.
The reigning Olympic and world heptathlon champion sustained the injury nearly two months ago and missed the indoor season.
She is still not sure when she will be able to return to full training but is hoping to complete a full summer programme, including taking part in the famous multi-event season opener in Gotzis at the end of May.
Ennis-Hill, who has signed a three-year extension to her partnership with health insurance firm Vitality, told Press Association Sport: “It’s definitely improving. I’m just easing back into training and taking everything really slowly.
“I’ve been plagued with Achilles injuries in recent years and it has been frustrating but it’s something I have to deal with and hope that myself and the team around me can make sure it’s right for the summer.
“The only positive is that I picked up this injury relatively early in the year so it’s given us a bit more time and flexibility to get it right.
“If it was a couple of months out from the Olympics it would have been a different story, but hopefully we can get it right for Rio.”
In dark moments, the 30-year-old only needs to think back to what she achieved against all odds last summer.
A year after giving birth to son Reggie, Ennis-Hill made a late decision to go to the World Championships and walked away with the gold medal.
“It definitely gave me confidence knowing I can do a relatively small amount of training and have setbacks and injuries but still come out and compete well,” she said.
“It’s definitely one of my proudest moments to have stepped away from my sport for that amount of time and come back and become world champion.
“Lots of things have changed since the last Olympics. Training’s very different and obviously my mindset’s very different but that drive and determination is very much there.
“I don’t have many years left competing so you have to make the most of these great opportunities. Fingers crossed I get to Rio, and that will be my last Olympics so I really want to make it worthwhile.”
Reggie will be two by the time Rio comes round, and Ennis-Hill is ready to put aside concerns about the Zika virus and take him to Rio.
She said: “I’d love him to be there so fingers crossed I can be there and he can watch me.
“I’ve definitely got concerns. It’s still very much all in the air at the moment and things are developing and changing constantly. I’m getting as much information as I can so I know what the situation is before I head out there and take my son out there.”
Since Ennis-Hill’s golden moment in Beijing last summer, athletics has been dragged through the gutter by the explosive revelations about state-sponsored doping in Russia and corruption in the world governing body the IAAF.
Russia remains suspended from the sport and may or may not be reinstated for Rio.
Ennis-Hill has been personally affected and is waiting for a ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport on whether she will be upgraded to gold from the World Championships in 2011.
Tatyana Chernova, the Russian winner, was banned following a retest of a sample given in 2009 and two years of results were wiped out, ending just before the World Championships.
Ennis-Hill said: “Whether Russia are there or aren’t there is something I can’t control.
“I think every athlete has probably looked at another athlete and thought something’s not quite right. For me personally with Tatyana Chernova, deep down I knew something wasn’t quite right but you can’t just say, ‘she’s not doing it right’ because you don’t know for certain. You hope the governing bodies can take charge and get things right.
“Our sport’s been through a really tough time and it’s sad to see as an athlete but it’s good to see because everything’s coming to the surface now.
“I can see why the public look at certain sports like athletics and think, ‘are these true performances?’ but there are athletes that train so hard and compete really well through natural means. We really don’t want to forget that.
“It’s going to be hard and our sport is going to have a tough time but hopefully we can come out the other side.”
* Jessica Ennis-Hill is supporting Big Walkies, the biggest series of dog-walking events in England and Wales. Big Walkies is a joint initiative between Vitality and the RSPCA.