London 2012 Olympics: Jessica Ennis sitting pretty in her quest for gold
JESSICA Ennis thundered down the home straight in the final event of the first day of the heptathlon last night, the packed crowds at Olympic Stadium on their feet, as she dead-heated with the specialist 200m runner, the Dutchwoman, Dafne Schippers, against the backdrop of thousands of camera flashes in a personal best time, a mark that brought the kind of points bonanza that put her back on the top of the pile with four events gone and three tumultuous ones to come today.
What an opening session it had been for Ennis. A heptathlon world record in the 110m hurdles in the morning followed by two pretty disappointing performances in the high jump and the shot put that lost her the lead only to come storming back with a precious 22.83sec in the 200m.
When the giant scoreboards flicked and updated and revealed the overnight position there was a bout of prolonged whooping when Ennis’ name came up first.
Ennis beamed and waved and gave the thumbs up at the sight of her name in first with 4158 hard-earned points to her name and an advantage of 184 over the field. “I am so tired but that was a great race. I am so pleased to end the day with that,” she said. “I am made up to have run a PB. Bit up and down but all solid performances and a personal best is brilliant. Tomorrow I will have to have a really strong day and make sure I have really solid performances. I have a good score under my belt but more work to do tomorrow.”
Ennis needed a cushion overnight – and she has it. It’s not as luxurious as she would have wanted, but it’s enough to give her hope; sufficient for the dream of a gold medal to remain a realistic possibility while very far from a racing certainty.
This morning, Ennis begins with the long jump and the javelin, two events where her opponents will fancy their chances of devouring her lead, while finishing with the 800m.
If she’s still holding the lead by then she’ll be hard to beat. Big ‘if’, though. Huge.
More and more the long jump looks utterly critical to her prospects. More and more those around her will be crossing every part of their anatomy that it’s possible to cross in the hope that all the work she has done in bettering her technique will pay dividends.
The longing of this crowd to see her win gold is palpable.
You can almost reach out and touch their desperation.
The beloved Sheffield girl, cheered riotously when she so much as moved a muscle in the eye-line of her people, has Austra Skujyte, the Lithuanian from whom Ennis snatched the lead with that 200m points haul, for company. It has to be said, Skujyte looks an ominous presence.
The gap between first and second is less than 200 points, the gap between Ennis and the Canadian Jessica Zelinka in third is 255 points with Hyleas Fountain, the Olympic silver-medallist four years ago, and her old chums Tatyana Chernova of Russia and Natalia Dobrynska of Ukraine lurking in the top ten.
The latter two would need to get a move on early today. They’re 309 points and 323 points adrift of Ennis, albeit with all the class in world to do something about it.
Ennis might well be thinking of Gotzis as she fetches up at the stadium this morning, Gotzis being her last major meet before coming here, a meet that saw her beat Chernova and Dobrynska thanks in no small part to a rejuvenated long jump and javelin.
What she would give for that kind of form today. What the home crowd would give, too.
This was wonderful stuff. In her greatest fantasies, Ennis couldn’t have imagined getting off to a better start. Out she came for the 100m hurdles in the first session in the morning, the Olympic Stadium bursting to the rafters and shaking with noise.
It was imperative for Ennis that she got off to a good start, that she send a message to her rivals – and what a message she sent.
She’d have settled for 12.85sec, she’d have been targeting 12.79sec, her personal best, but what she got was 12.54sec.
It wasn’t only the fastest time she’d ever recorded, it was the fastest any heptathlete had ever recorded. In fact, it was the equal of the time set by Dawn Harper when winning the individual 110m hurdles at the Beijing Olympics, a fact that left Ennis speechless, if only for a little while.
“I kind of felt strangely calm beforehand,” said Ennis.
“I’m normally quite nervous before the hurdles but I was quite calm and then coming out in the stadium and seeing everyone and the crowd, it’s just such an amazing feeling. It gives you goosebumps. I am still so shocked at the hurdles time. I can’t believe it to be honest, I really can’t.”
Whether she believed it or not, it stayed on the board and it put her into the lead she was looking for. From that great high to the high jump.
The feeling going into this was that in spending so much time working on her shot, her long jump and her javelin – the events she felt she needed to get more out of – her traditional strengths, like the high jump, might have suffered.
That was the concern and the concern was understandable.
On a decent day, Ennis would be expected to jump 1.89m minimum, her best being 1.95m. In the end she did 1.86m, a bit of a let-down followed by another in the shot where she would have been looking for something around 14.50m but could only find 14.28m.
At that point she lost her lead to
Skujyte who threw a world-beating 17.31m.
The stage is set, then. Ennis is where she wants to be.
Four years ago she was injured
and couldn’t bare to watch Dobrynska, Fountain and Chernova compete
for the medals. Now, she’s in at the heart of it. It’s there for her, if she’s good enough.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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