It is nearly two years since Jessica Ennis-Hill was last seen in competition and it is the great unknown as to whether she can ever be the same athlete again who shone so brightly at London 2012.
But Ennis-Hill will give the first indications of whether she can recapture such gold-winning form since becoming a mother after announcing her return to competition at the Great CityGames in Manchester on Saturday 9 May.
To add further excitement to her long-awaited comeback, she will be lining up in the 100m hurdles street race against Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the athlete who has taken her place as the world’s premier female multi-eventer in her absence.That Ennis-Hill should choose the hurdles for her return to the track is fitting. It is unquestionably her best event and one in which she held the British record (12.54 seconds) until Tiffany Porter shaved three-hundredths of a second off it last September at the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakech.
“I’m really looking forward to making my competitive return at the Great CityGames Manchester,” said Ennis-Hill of the event which will take place in front of an estimated 25,000 spectators on Deansgate. “The atmosphere is always amazing there. Street athletics is a lot of fun.”
The last time the public saw the 29-year-old Sheffield athlete in competition was at the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium in July 2013, when she finished fourth in the 100m hurdles. She has since had time out to become a mother, with son Reggie being born last July.
Initial reports from her training camp and coach Toni Minichiello suggest that Ennis-Hill has exceeded expectations with the speed of her return to form and fitness, but translating that into competition is another matter altogether.
While the Olympic heptathlon champion has been away, Johnson-Thompson, who played a mere supporting role during her fellow Briton’s Olympic gold three years ago by finishing 15th, has become the athlete to beat.
The Liverpudlian won last year’s Hypo Meeting in Götzis, seen as the sport’s unofficial annual world championships. In addition, Johnson-Thompson broke Ennis-Hill’s British record en route to becoming only the second athlete to achieve 5,000 in the pentathlon in winning gold at the European Indoor Championships in Prague earlier this month.
The Manchester meeting will be the first of many anticipated head-to-heads between the two athletes, with a truer test coming over their seven events at the Hypo Meeting in Götzis on 30-31 May.