Sheffield role model Jess already all gold


Whatever the fates hold in store, we should all hold a torch for Jessica Ennis this summer.

Whether the flame licks or spits on her Olympic ambitions, she is already on a pedestal as important as any medal-winning platform.

This cherub-cheeked girl has emerged from our midst here in Sheffield to show an ever more cynical world that it is no longer naff to be nice. And that’s a triumph for the whole of society, never mind sport.

Certainly it’s one in the eye for Britain’s most famous entrepreneur and a man who stands for very different values when it comes to succeeding in life. Alan Sugar is not exactly struck on nice guys. Or nice girls come to that.

They come last, don’t they? Bet nobody’s told that to our Jess - not even the Lord of the Apprentice. She is just what we need in an age of shameless self-promotion where in-your-face projection is positively encouraged.

Don’t you just hate all that? Don’t you just love the style and grace that Ennis brings not only to her athletics but to the way she is as a person?

The point is that it DOES matter how our sporting heroes and heroines behave. It does matter that they project the right image. For instance, the late Gary Speed’s finest legacy was that, in nearly all the tributes paid, his qualities as a human being were extolled way above his considerable achievements in foootball.

Granted, without the latter we wouldn’t have paid homage to the former. But it does prove that people in general actually care more deeply than they might admit about what our stars are really like.

It’s why Sheffield’s favourite boxer of recent times is Herol “Bomber” Graham rather than “Prince” Naseem Hamed, despite the latter’s superior excellence in the ring.

It’s why Sir Alex Ferguson is revered in a restrained sort of way; greatness as a manager does not necessarily equal greatness as a person, for all the kindness and generosity said to lurk underneath.

And it’s why a certain England defender will not feel the nation’s warmth on his back however England fare in the European Championships.

Terry’s not all gold, you see. But we have a precious commodity in Jess Ennis, whatever the colour draped around her neck a few weeks from now.

Beyond her ability in the various disciplines of the heptathlon she displays dignity, class and courage.

Faced with the “failure” of second place - hardly! - at the recent World Indoor Championships, she smiled through her disappointment.

Even being bizarrely described as “fat” didn’t faze her.

I can only think the unnamed athletics official responsible for that fatuous remark was the one who forgot to put out the 10th hurdle in Manchester, thereby depriving her of a personal best.

Not that we require our stars to be saints.

And note, too, that nice doesn’t mean soft; in fact, there’s an extra inner strength required to behave with dignity in times of trial and torment.

Ennis is one tough lady of track and field, make no mistake.

Privately, like us all, she will have her moments.

But there is a saying that could almost have been invented for her... it’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.

Jess Ennis qualifies in both fields.There could be no finer role model for us all to cheer.