Week 157 (8 – 14 October 2016)
The terms "poster boy" or "poster girl" are generally used figuratively. But Jessica Ennis-Hill (née Ennis) was London 2012's poster girl both figuratively and literally. Not yet even an Olympian, she gazed down imperiously from giant billboards across the United Kingdom in the lead-up to London's Olympic Games.
As the leading symbol of what British athletics chiefs fervently hoped would be a banner day for their sport, the pressure on her to perform was immense. As Ennis-Hill's long-time coach Toni Minichiello reminded The Guardian yesterday, she was the only British track and field athlete for whom Olympic silver would be regarded as a loss.
This week Ennis-Hill announced her retirement from competition, meaning girls and women around the world, but particularly in Britain, will be seeing much less of one of athletics' great role models. Transcending the quality of her performances, Ennis-Hill's ability as a communicator made her a standout star.
Key to her communication was a willingness to talk, an openness that elite athletes often lose. Minichiello explained: "To me, Jess's most endearing quality is how she is as a person. When we trained in Sheffield there would often be youngsters running around the track alongside her. And she was always happy to talk, pose for selfies or sign autographs. Increasingly, you see sports people who are aloof and keep themselves in a bubble. But Jess always wanted to be someone that people not only looked up to but could say hello to as well."
The way Ennis-Hill handled the announcement of her retirement is entirely reflective of the quality lauded by her coach. Not for her the showy press conference. Instead, she shared the announcement via social media in her own straightforward and classy terms:
"I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me and worked with me over the years. I plan to spend time with my family and work on my future plans.
"Sport has been such a huge part of my life and I hope I can share some of the positives it brings with everyone moving forward."
A day later she returned to social media to thank her fans for their supportive messages.
For remaining true to herself even under the greatest of pressure, and for sharing her journey with fans in such an honest and engaging way throughout her career, Jessica Ennis-Hill is JTA's communicator of the week.
Photo: Flickr (Sabre Blade)