It’s been a momentous couple of weeks for Toni and Jess.

Toni celebrated his 50th birthday at a restaurant in Sheffield surrounded by family, friends and athletes. And me. It was a surprise party – mainly planned as a surprise I suspect to restrict Toni’s speech to less than thirty minutes. He duly obliged and everyone enjoyed themselves accordingly.

Toni is 50


I found myself on a table with the athletes and several bottles of wine. I mention the latter because everyone else was in training and therefore restricting themselves to glasses of water. Fortunately Jess’ arrival meant that, given her status as retiree, I had a drinking partner. I also took the chance to give Jess a copy of the Coach to Rio book – something the other athletes were keen to examine:

Athletes view the book

It’s evident, to me at least, that retirement is suiting Jess. Many sports people struggle after
retirement but Reggie has more than filled the time gap that stopping training created. That and completing the first in a series of children’s books: Evie’s Magic Bracelet. J.K. Rowling and David Walliams better look out – the next publishing mogul is coming up on you from the outside lane. I let Jess know that I’m looking forward to seeing her pink helicopter once she’s sold her first ten million copies.

What no-one knew for certain that night was that Toni was going to receive a late birthday present and Jess was getting an early Christmas gift in the form of the 2011 World Championship gold medal. Although I guess you could argue it was several birthdays and Christmases overdue.

I asked Toni what he thought of the whole affair,

“We always focused on what Jess might have done better to improve her performance. We knew what areas we had to work on”.

“But what about being cheated out of a gold medal?!”

“You always suspected from day one. Too many inconsistencies or none results followed by a performance like that”.

“Does it make you angry”

“It makes you wonder what someone is thinking when they hold up their finger – making out they’re number one when they know they’ve cheated. That can be annoying”.

ennis-hill chernova

I delay another question, rightly suspecting that Toni has more to say, “It might sound strange but maybe you have a slight degree of sympathy with an athlete who is in a system where using drugs is just what they do. That said, they still know it’s wrong”.

“What about the medal, the money?”

Toni laughs, “Who knows? Maybe they’ll send it DHL, maybe there will be a medal ceremony”.

“A ceremony in London for all the cheated athletes might be nice”.

“Yeah, although it’s a few years retired for some. They may not look so, err, athletic, anymore”.

“What’s Jess got to say about it?”

“I’m seeing her this afternoon. Naturally she’s pleased to get it. As to the overall thing it’s a funny one. There’s no doubt that the frustration of 2011 spurred us onto Olympic Gold a year later. Did it give us something extra, more pressure that might not have been there had she been awarded gold at the World? We’ll never know”

“Interesting to think about though”

“It is. But the story is the story”.

“Triple World Champ and Triple World Champ Coach. Sounds like a good ending”.

“I’ll take it”.