Jessica Ennis-Hill admits that the idea of turning 30 has been troubling her. Today, the Olympic and world heptathlon champion will blow out the candles on her birthday cake with mixed emotions in what could be her last season of competition having hinted she may retire after Rio.
“It’s just a bit sad turning 30,” she concedes.
“It bothers me a little. I feel really happy and content and lucky with what I’ve achieved so it’s not a feeling of ‘what am I doing with my life?’
“It’s more a case of ‘oh my God I’m 30’. I know it’s just a number but it just seems really old and really different.”
While her husband Andy celebrated his 30th a few years ago by “going to Ascot, getting drunk and having a great time,” Ennis-Hill’s landmark will be marked in more subdued fashion with a weekend away — a brief respite from a punishing six months leading up to the Olympics.
Rio is the perpetual reminder, her coach Toni Minichiello giving her a daily countdown in training, and the enormity of what lies ahead was thrown into even greater focus by a recent visit to the Olympic Stadium in London, three-and-a-half years on from her career-defining moment.
Ennis-Hill, in Stratford to launch the extension of Santander Cycles to the Olympic Park, talks of how life has changed for her.
“In 2012, it was like pressure, pressure, pressure,” she says with the backdrop of the Olympic Stadium behind her. “It feels very different this time. This time, when I came back to competition last year, my goal was to get the qualifying score. By coming back and winning the worlds I felt like I’ve done it, I’ve really done it. That takes a bit of pressure off but, as an athlete, you always want more and I’ve not got that much more left of my career.”
Ennis-Hill is a ray of positivity in a sport starved of positive headlines since the World Championships last summer when she won a second world title just 13 months on from the birth of her son, Reggie. The corruption and doping scandal that has rocked the sport has hurt many innocent athletes such as Ennis-Hill, who was beaten to world gold in 2011 by drugs cheat Tatyana Chernova.
Last year the Russian was punished for failing a drug test at the 2009 World Championships but she was allowed to keep her title from 2011.
Ennis-Hill’s attempt to have Chernova stripped of that gold is with the Court of Arbitration of Sport.
“So many athletes have missed out on medals and it’s just not right,” she says.
“This is the time to put everything straight.”
Chernova’s two-year suspension was backdated to June 2013 meaning she could line up against Ennis-Hill in Rio if the blanket ban on Russian athletes is lifted. That scenario does not sit comfortably with the Briton.
“I’d be really mad at myself if I allowed myself to be distracted by her being there,” she says. “I can’t control her being there and what she does. I want to focus on me, do myself justice and set out to achieve what I want to achieve. But part of me would feel that this isn’t right definitely.”
Of the wider scandal, which has seen state-backed doping in Russia and former IAAF president Lamine Diack subject to a criminal investigation in France, Ennis-Hill says:
“As an athlete competing at this time, it’s really upsetting to read, shocking more than anything, that level of corruption and how deep it is. There’s been so much negativity and some really depressing stories to read. At the moment, we need some really great performances, some true performances. It won’t change everything but it will help lift us a bit.”
The situation has not quite come to the point where she would steer her son away from the sport.
Reggie loves nothing more than to tear around the kitchen, his athlete mother veering from thinking his endurance would lend itself to middle-distance running while she jokes “he has the calves of a sprinter”.
Her perspective on the sport has changed in recent months but she says:
“When you’re younger you’re totally oblivious but growing up you hear the drug stories and then it gets to now and it’s really disheartening. Now we just have to go through this awful time to make sure everything is transparent and cleared up.
“I’d still love Reggie to be an athlete. It’s such a great sport and I’ve loved doing it throughout my career.”
She will bid to put the scandal to the back of her mind and focus instead on the dual challenge of Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who she marks out as the favourites for Olympic gold alongside herself.
For Ennis-Hill, though, it is not a case of gold or nothing.
“I would absolutely love to go there and win gold but it’s a huge challenge to win back-to-back Olympics,” says Ennis-Hill, who is bidding to become only the third mother to return to retain her Olympic title.
“To win gold would be incredible but to win any medal at what will be my last Olympics would also be incredible.”
Whether she carries on for another year for the World Championships inside the Olympic Stadium in London in 2017 is another matter. And she is adamant she has no idea whether the colour of her medal this summer will affect that decision.
“I think it’s going to be a case of seeing what happens, seeing how I feel and having a bit of time to consider everything,” she says.
“You’ve got to have that drive, be motivated and really want it.
“If I feel like that after Rio and I’ve had a break, that I want to go to London and do it again, then I’ll 100 per cent do it. But if there’s that doubt — do I want to do it? — then it’s time.”