Jessica Ennis had barely reached the main stand – the only stand – at the Dorothy Hyman Sports Centre yesterday morning when the polite requests began. Little Lucy Mills of Halifax Harriers was one of the first to ask the great British all-rounder for an autograph, her mother showing the European heptathlon champion a camera-phone image of "Jessica Eggis", a model egg that Lucy had made of her track and field idol for a competition. "Ah, that's lovely," Ennis said, beaming. "Did it win?"
Lucy shook her head. Still, over the course of the next seven hours Ennis managed to win twice at the 2012 Yorkshire Track and Field Championships, her first multi-task engagement of a summer season in which she carries hopes of home Olympic gold. It was a wonder that the 26-year-old Sheffield athlete got the time to putt the shot and throw the javelin. Everywhere she went, she was besieged by folk – young athletes, parents, fellow competitors even – asking for a signature and a photograph.
"It is a bit weird," Ennis confessed. "You come down to compete and even when you're warming up people are asking for pictures and autographs. I try to do as many as possible."
Indeed, every request was satisfied with a smile and a cheery word. The only one who went home disappointed was Ennis herself. Two weeks away from the Hypo Heptathlon at Götzis in Austria, in which she is due to face her main Olympic rivals, she had hoped to throw farther than 44.13m in the javelin. But then, in addition to being the home village of Michael Parkinson (and of Dorothy Hyman, the 100m silver medallist at the Rome Olympics in 1960) Cudworth can be decidedly parky on the meteorological front.
Seb Coe had to battle against a blustering wind when he won the Yorkshire 5,000m title here at the start of the 1980 season in which he struck Olympic 1500m gold in Moscow. Any hopes Ennis harboured of a 47m throw were scuppered by a cross wind blowing in the direction of Grimethorpe, where Parky's father worked as a coal hewer. "That kind of wind makes it difficult," she reflected. "I would have liked to have thrown a bit farther."
It had also been blowy in the morning when Ennis threw 14.33m to win the shot. "I was happy with that," she said. "That was decent for me at the start of the season."
Sheila Bolland was pretty happy too, even though she finished sixth and last with 5.09m. "I'm 69," said the woman from Spenborough Athletics Club, an athletics official who was also working as one of the field event judges yesterday. "I'll be 70 in June. I just like to show people you don't have to be good to enjoy competing in the county championships.
"And I got to compete against Jess. She's such a lovely, down-to-earth personality. She was chatting to the rest of us during the rest of the competition. You wouldn't get many world-class athletes doing that."