Ennis's coach prove master manipulator
by: Nicole Jeffery
May 29, 2012
Jessica Ennis, centre, crosses the line to beat Dawn Harper and Danielle Carruthers at the Great City Games. Source: AFP
THOSE people calling for the head of an unnamed UK Athletics official who had the temerity to call Britain's Olympic poster girl Jessica Ennis "fat" have got it wrong.
Instead of condemning the "fat-head" as he was dubbed in The Times yesterday, after Ennis responded by breaking the UK record in her last heptathlon before the Games, they should be applauding Ennis's coach Toni Minichiello for his brilliant manipulation of the situation.
I suspect that news of the comment did not make its way into the media last week by accident. The timing was too perfect.
The very best coaches are master motivators, and have a streak of cunning a mile wide. I would not be surprised if Minichiello had been saving that comment up to reveal at just the right moment to provoke a competitive response from Ennis.
Minichiello and Ennis have been working together for 15 years and have achieved great success as a partnership. To get to that elite level, he must understand exactly what sparks her emotionally and psychologically.
If he believed that the "fat" comment would have any negative effect on Ennis he would never have revealed it publicly. But champion athletes tend to respond to what they perceive as unfair criticism by lifting themselves to an even higher level.
There are few more simple or powerful motivators for great competitors than: "I'll show you".
Who can forget Seb Coe's defiant gesture to the doubters on the press benches after he successfully defended his Olympic 1500m title in Los Angeles in 1984?
And Michael Phelps' coach Bob Bowman credits former Australian head coach Don Talbot for providing the world's greatest swimmer with all the motivation he needed to win six gold medals at the 2004 Olympics, when Talbot said a year earlier that Phelps had "done nothing yet" in major championships.
Bowman made sure Phelps saw the article, by slipping it into his locker at his training pool. Phelps said later the comment "definitely lit a fire under my butt".
In fact, 14 gold medals later, after the Beijing Olympics, when Phelps was short on motivation and spending most of his time playing golf and poker, Bowman would have begged for a dismissive comment from Talbot to get his swimmer back into the pool.
So Minichiello's revelation of the "fat comment" was a masterstroke. It motivated Ennis to put in the best performance of her life and take back the initiative from the woman who took the world title from her last year, Russia's Tatyana Chernova.
By the end of the prestigious annual multi-event competition in Gotzis, Austria, Ennis had set a personal best of 6906 points, which lifted her into the top eight performers of all-time and left her 132 points ahead of Chernova
With an athlete as high-profile as Ennis is leading into the London Olympics she is Britain's answer to Cathy Freeman before the Sydney Olympics it is inevitable that she will be the exposed to negative public commentary along the way.
It's how she and her coach use those comments that may shape her destiny.
On another subject, anyone who saw the duel between the British and Australian men's coxless four crews at the World Cup regatta in Lucerne on Sunday will be licking their lips in anticipation of the match-up in London.
These two great crews are on a collision course and carrying all of the pride of their respective nations' glorious history in this event.
Between them, Britain and Australia have won the last five gold medals in this event. Australia won in 1992 and 1996 with a crew nicknamed the "Oarsome Foursome", while Britain have won the last three.
The British crew took an early victor in Lucerne but even Sir Steve Redgrave, who won his record fifth gold medal in the coxless four in 2000, expects the Australians (led by Drew Ginn, hunting for his fourth consecutive gold medal) to improve after arriving in Europe just before the regatta.
This will be one of the races of the Games.