Newly-crowned national 400m indoor champion Kelly Sotherton is living on cloud nine after a dream start to her athletics reformation but still insists there is plenty more to come, starting with the Aviva Grand Prix at the Birmingham NIA on Saturday.
Former heptathlete Sotherton was on the brink of retirement just nine months ago, after a two-year injury nightmare left her unable to add to the Olympic and World bronze medals she acquired in her successful career as a multi-event star.
Her subsequent decision to retire from heptathlon and reinvent herself as a specialist 400m runner was justified at the weekend when she stormed to victory at Sheffield’s Aviva Indoor UK Trials – beating Jenny Meadows in the process.
And fresh from her exertions at the English Institute of Sport, the Birchfield Harriers star is already looking ahead to competing in front of her home fans , who she believes are the most athletics-savvy in the country.
She said: “I am delighted to be able to race at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham. It’s my home crowd, a great atmosphere and I am now really looking forward to running again at the NIA.
“I will just be aiming to do my best and enjoy competing. I love the track at the NIA, with the crowd is so noisy and close to you and, of course, being just down the road from where I live, I can’t wait.”
Sotherton joins a star-studded line-up at NIA, with the likes of Birmingham-based World and European triple jumper Phillips Idowu, alongside home-grown European and Commonwealth silver medallist Mark Lewis-Francis, on the illustrious bill.
And Sotherton admits she is delighted to see athletics being so warmly received in the city ahead of an unprecedented three major Aviva Series events arriving in Birmingham in 2011 and the London 2012 Olympics just a year and a half away.
She added: “It’s great for the public that there are so many world class athletes going to be performing in Birmingham but I am just concentrating on my own race.
“I am delighted to be back competing but have to take things slowly. I will be giving it my best and having qualified for the Europeans in Paris next month, Birmingham will be great preparation.”
One big name who won’t be at the NIA, however is World and European heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.
The Sheffield star has withdrawn from the event after suffering from inflammation of the left ankle which saw her pull out of two events on the second day of the Trials.
The 25-year-old has undergone treatment for the past few days in an effort to be fit for Birmingham, but progress has been slower than expected.
Ennis said: “With the European Indoor Championships only two-and-a-half weeks away, under the advice of the UKA medical team and in consultation with my coach Toni Minichiello, I have decided that racing this weekend is not going to help the healing process.
“I am putting all of my energy into being in the best shape for the pentathlon on March 4 at the championships in Paris.
“Withdrawing from the Aviva Indoor Grand Prix is not an easy decision and I am really frustrated, but nipping injuries in the bud is really the best thing to do.”
* For tickets or more information about the Aviva Grand Prix at the NIA go to www.uka.org.uk/aviva-series or phone 08000 556 056