There was dismay as Ashia Hansen, the world indoor record holder, made a tearful and empty-handed exit from her final. But spirits were revived by the emerging possibility of unexpected reward after an inspired performance from Dean Macey, who held the decathlon silver medal position overnight.
That is something no British decathlete has managed in a major championship since the 1984 Olympics, when Daley Thompson went on to win his second title.
It will be a tall order for the 21-year-old from Canvey Island to emulate that feat, but at the end of a first day in which he produced two personal bests and finished just 36 points behind the defending champion Tomas Dvorak, of the Czech Republic, he was in buoyant mood.
"I've heard a little rumour that they are all asking about me," said the man who emerged into international class in May with a score of 8,347 points at Arles, the best by any Briton other than Thompson. "It's all about holding it together for tomorrow now, but that's my best first day ever. I'm not phased by competing at this level - I love it. I'm in there winding the others up every time I see them in the restaurant."
Earlier this year Macey was on course for a gold or silver at the European Under-23 Championships in Gothenburg, registering a first-day score of 4,358, only to drop out of contention following a fall in the 110m hurdles. But that memory is dismissed - "it's not even in the back of my mind" - as he prepares to set out today in pursuit of the Czech.
He also dismissed the niggling ankle and hamstring injuries which clearly troubled him at points on a day when he set personal bests in the 100m (10.69sec) and 400m (46.72), as well as coming within a centimetre of his best high jump with 2.12m. A shot putt of 15.14m and a long jump of 7.48m left him on 4,546 points, with Dvorak on 4,582 and America's Chris Huffins lying third on 4,462.
Macey does not mind the obvious comparison with Thompson, who is out here advising the fourth-placed Estonian European champion, Erki Nool. "It's inevitable until I win two Olympic golds and everything else that he won," Macey said.
Hansen, needing to make her mark after two no jumps in order to join the eight best competitors earning a final three efforts, overcompensated by taking off a metre short of the board, and her mark of 13.39m was not enough. It was an unhappy return to the bad old days for an athlete who has won the European and world indoor titles, and a Commonwealth gold, in the last two seasons following her failures to qualify at the 1994 European Championships and the 1995 World Championships.
"This is a big disappointment, and she will ride the tide of it for a few days," said her coach, Aston Moore. "The warm up had gone very well and we felt ready for the final. Her first no jump wasn't a problem. For the second one she got distracted by the crowd doing a Mexican wave, and for the third one she played too safe."
But Jackson put himself into an excellent position to win the 110m hurdles today in a programme which may also see Edwards reclaiming his own world title. "I'm feeling as good as I ever have, and I think there is a really, really big jump inside me," said Edwards yesterday.
Jackson, seeking to regain the title he won in a world record time six years ago, lines up today for a final which will not include either the world's fastest man this year, Mark Crear, or the Olympic and world champion Allen Johnson.
Thus, shortly before 7.30pm British time, the Welshman has the opportunity to put himself back on top of the pile at the age of 32 and deliver the global gold medal for which Britain have been hoping with increasing desperation since Edwards took the 1995 world triple jump title.
"This is my best chance since '93," said Jackson, who was delighted to hear the news of Johnson's demise. "He's been a voodoo man for me over the years, so it's a huge boost for me. Jonathan and I have been joking that we are both going for personal bests to win gold medals for Britain. There is no money bet, but there is a lot of personal pride riding on it. Seriously, I don't expect to beat my own world record of 12.91. I think 13.14 will be enough for the gold. So I intend to run 13.13."
Jackson finished a close second last night to Anier Garcia of Cuba - 13.18 to 13.19 - in a semi-final from which Johnson scratched at late notice.
The American, who has taken over as the event's dominant force in recent years, had clearly not fully overcome the calf injury he suffered in Rome on 8 July and which had kept him out of competition until these championships.
Now Jackson looks forward to the challenge of Garcia, and Johnson's two fellow Americans, Tony Dees and Duane Ross, the latter of whom won the other semi-final with ease last night in 13.14.
Crear, who heads the 1999 world lists with 12.98, was already absent after the previous night's disqualification for two false starts.
Mark Richardson only squeezed into tomorrow's 400m final in the fourth qualifying place despite running a season's best of 44.47 as the Olympic and world champion Michael Johnson won the semi at his ease in 43.95. Jamie Baulch also reached the 400m final, as did his training partner Katharine Merry, who lowered her personal best for the third time this season, to 50.21.
Joy for El Guerrouj, page 23Reuse content