Sebastian Coe has urged Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson to seek out Jessica Ennis-Hill for advice on how to deal with the pressure of going for gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
Lord Coe, who won 1500m gold medals at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics before taking charge of the 2012 Games, believes that Ennis-Hill gave a “textbook” example of how to cope with great expectations while storming to heptathlon victory at the London Games. He suspects that she can help the world 200m champion Asher-Smith and Johnson-Thompson, who won the heptathlon at Doha 2019, to hit the highest notes again in Japan.
“I’m sure Jess would be amenable to it because she is that type of person,” said Coe, the president of World Athletics. “She went through London 2012 as the poster-child and came out with a terrific performance. I honestly do not think there was anybody in the Games in London that had more expectation and pressure sitting on their shoulders.
“The other bit of advice I would give – and I think it’s what Jess was very clear about – is that she did not leave her coaching environment. She didn’t play around with variables. She stuck to the same system, the same city, the same training venues, and she kept it about as normal as she possibly could. That’s not always easy in an Olympic year but I think she wasn’t just perfect in her competitions. I think her buildup, given the pressure on her, was probably textbook.”
Coe also dismissed suggestions that the lack of international competition for Asher-Smith and Johnson-Thompson in 2020 could harm their chances in Tokyo. “The top athletes will bounce back,” he said. “And because they’re resilient, and they have the ability, I don’t think those delays are going to be so huge for them.”
British Athletics has experienced a difficult few years, but Coe said he was encouraged by a new wave of talent coming through – especially the young 800m star Jemma Reekie, who set the fastest time indoors by a woman since 2006 when she ran 1min 57.91sec in February.
“She’s a precocious talent,” said Coe. “She works within the same group as Laura Muir which can’t be a bad thing. And they also seem to both be handling the competitive nature of what they confront each other with on the track, and the collaborative work that they both obviously do together in training, extraordinarily well too.”
Coe said he was encouraged at how many British athletes – including the 1500m runner Jake Wightman, who was fifth at the 2019 world championships, and the exciting 800m talent Daniel Rowden – seemed to understand what it took to go all the way.
“I think there is a fantastic crop of young athletes coming through,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with Laura, while Jake Wightman picks up the phone quite a bit. I had a long conversation with Daniel Rowden the other day. And certainly around middle distance, this current crop really do understand, probably more than earlier generations, exactly what it takes to get to the highest level.”