The Olympic heptathlon champion rejected claims that she is the runaway favourite to take gold in Rio

Jessica Ennis-Hill says she has been taken aback by her good form in the build-up to her Olympic heptathlon title defence in Rio which saw her shoot to second in the world rankings for the seven-discipline event.

The reigning world and Olympic champion scored 6733 points at the IAAF Combined Events Challenge meeting in Ratingen last month – 64 points more than she achieved on her way to winning her second world title in Beijing last summer.

Ennis-Hill had endured a delayed start to 2016 as she was forced to contend with an Achilles injury which she initially feared may jeopardise the Olympics for her but returned to competition in an emphatic manner, breaking her long jump personal best by 12 centimetres with a 6.63m leap on her way to victory.

“Going to Ratingen and posting that score in those conditions and coming away with a PB in the long jump is something I didn’t at this stage expect,” the 30-year-old said. “I just wanted to get back to where I was or close to where I was in 2012 and have equal personal bests. This year I’d love to get to Rio in one piece and better what I did last year.”

As the figurehead of Britain’s pre-Olympic gold medal chances back in 2012, Ennis-Hill produced her best under suffocating pressure. Her recent performance in Germany has led many to see her as the clear favourite for Rio glory, but the heptathlete doesn’t see it that way.

Ennis-Hill said: “The heptathlon is open and one of those events which is very hard to see a favourite. Most of the girls have been competing well. I saw the results from the European Championships and there were some really big scores there in individual events. It’s very hard to say who is actually the favourite going in there.”

While the build-up is slightly lower-key for Ennis-Hill this time round, the competitor within her means the nerves are still being felt, even without quite the same levels of expectation as in London.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to completely relax. I can feel the nerves building already and excitement as well, but I’m very anxious and nervous,” Ennis-Hill said about her feelings ahead of her second Olympics.

“It feels completely different this year. I don’t feel that different type of stress and pressure that I had in 2012 and last year as well when I decided that I was going to go to Beijing.”

Ennis-Hill will compete at the Anniversary Games next week where she will run the 100m hurdles on Friday (July 22) against the likes of British record-holder Tiffany Porter and world No.1 Keni Harrison from the US before competing in the long jump on Saturday (July 23) against Brits Shara Proctor, Lorraine Ugen and Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

A world-class hurdler in her own right Ennis-Hill, who holds a 12.54 PB and sits second on the UK all-time list, says the chance to face up against the strongest of competition just a matter of days out from Rio will provide the ideal preparation.

“It’s a great opportunity. At this point before the Olympics having a really good quality race and being able to put myself in that environment to test myself, come away with a good time and a decent jump would give me a bit more confidence,” she added.

“I can then go away to the camp, do a bit more training, sharpen up a bit and then head out to Rio. I love being back in the stadium anyway and having an opportunity to race in a high quality field is always a positive.”

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