Jessica gives her casting vote to the Academy

‘Voting is hard!’ She maybe finding it difficult to pick a winner for the Laureus World Sportswoman fo the Year Award, but Jessica Ennis-Hill says that’s a small price to pay to be a part of the Laureus Academy – ‘sport can create amazing change in so many communities’
Olympic champion. Tech founder. Broadcaster. Laureus Academy member and former Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year. If there’s one athlete who you would expect to adapt to multiple disciplines and excel in each, it’s Jessica Ennis-Hill.

It’s over a decade since the London Olympics when, over two days of elite competition in the heptathlon, Ennis-Hill wrote her own chapter in the history of the Games. When she stepped to the top of the podium, she also ascended to a rare place in the popular culture of her native United Kingdom: somewhere between sporting icon and national treasure. 

“Going into that Olympics as the face of the Games was something that I never quite imagined,” she says. “I look back now and think, ‘how did it all come together in those two days?’ But it absolutely did and it was an incredible experience.’

The following year, Ennis-Hill was named Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year. At this year’s Awards, that category will be contested by five athletes who can all claim to have made a similar imprint on their sports: the footballer Alexia Putellas; Iga Swiatek, tennis’s World No.1; US swimmer Katie Ledecky; her compatriot, the skier Mikaela Shiffrin; and two athletes Ennis-Hill has watched closely in recent years, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone. 

Such is the breadth of Ennis-Hill’s experience since London 2012, it’s hard to imagine her not being able to advise this year’s winner on what lies ahead for them.

After becoming a mother in 2014, Ennis-Hill then navigated a route back to the top of her sport – without a road map.   

“It was unknown territory, not just for myself but for my team and people around me. They didn't know how my body was going to recover after pregnancy, how I'd feel mentally. There were moments when I had to tell people, ‘I'm coming back, I am going to do this’. That was a huge learning curve for me, but one of the most incredible journeys that I've been on in life and in sport.”

It culminated in Rio, Brazil, where Ennis-Hill ended her stellar track-and-field career with a silver medal. 
Today, as she speaks to Laureus, she is still a multi-discipline superstar. She is the mother of two children (one boy and one girl, of course). Her experience of returning to elite sport after having a child led to the development and launch, in 2019, of her app, Jennis, which assists women in adapting their training in relation to their hormonal health. Ennis-Hill has become an interesting and engaging addition to the BBC studio at major championships, including the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, Oregon. And since 2021, she has been a proud member of the Laureus Academy, the global group of sporting champions who share a common goal: to use the power of sport to change the world. 

“Joining the Academy is so incredible,” she says. “I feel so honoured to be part of an Academy with some incredible sportsmen and women and its ethos of using sport to create change and good within the world is so powerful.”

Ennis-Hill’s journey with Laureus began at the 2013 Laureus World Sports Awards, where she received the Sportswoman of the Year Award in recognition of her achievement at the previous year’s Olympics. 

“It was a very surreal experience,” she remembers. “I'd been on my hen do in New York! I flew to Rio and had the most amazing experience of sharing a room with some incredible sportsmen and women. Having the absolute honour to be presented on stage with that award, with some incredible names that have gone before me. It's pride of place at home and I'm still very proud of that moment.”

However, as a Laureus Academy Member, Ennis-Hill now finds herself on the other side of the most prestigious ballot in sport, selecting which of this year’s nominated athletes will have their own statuette to take home. That process is now underway, as the countdown to the 2023 Laureus World Sports Awards begins, and Ennis-Hill has some tricky calls to make, especially when it comes to comparing elite performers from her own sport. 

“Voting is very hard!” she says. “There have been some incredible performances this year. I think about Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone – it is going to be hard. It takes time to consider each athlete's journey to that point, what they've achieved, to try to get a holistic view of it all.

“Sydney has had such a phenomenal few years. The fact that she's broken the World Record twice. I'm still in awe when I think back to that performance at the Olympics. We knew she was in great shape, but she blew us all away with that performance and she'll be very, very hard to beat.

“Shelly-Ann is incredible. I have huge respect for her. As a mother, I'm biased – she's a mother and she's come back to achieve what she has, at the age of 35. It takes so much toll on your body to keep performing, to stay injury free and to stay on top.”

If either Fraser-Pryce or McLaughlin-Levrone are to be named Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year 2023, they will have to overcome competition more elite than any they have faced on the track. Shiffrin won the overall title at skiing’s World Cup; Swiatek rose to World No.1 on the back of two Grand Slam titles, in Paris and New York; Ledecky’s four golds at the World Championships made her the most successful female swimmer in history; and Putellas won a second successive Ballon d’Or and captained Barcelona to a perfect league season in Spain. 

Ennis-Hill may have struggled to reach a decision based on that incredible list of contenders, but she is unequivocal when it comes to recognising the mission behind the Awards.  

She added: “It's not just about the awards, it's about the work the Academy does in overseeing the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation all over the world, and how sport can create such amazing change in so many different communities. For young people coming into sport, it can change their lives in so many ways.”

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