It was probably not the coronation the head of the London 2012 Local Organising Committee had envisaged. When Sebastian Coe stepped forward to present the medals after the completion of the World Championship heptathlon yesterday, he found himself crowning a new global queen of the seven-event test of all-round athletic excellence. A Russian queen.
Before Tatyana Chernova received her reward for dethroning the pre-competition favourite, Jessica Ennis collected the runner-up prize from another great British athlete forged in Sheffield. She did so with a smile on her face and a wave to the crowd – not quite in the fashion of Lord Coe, back in his days as plain Seb, when he was presented with the Olympic 800m silver medal after losing to Steve Ovett in Moscow in 1980. "It was as though he was receiving a turd," Clive James observed at the time.
Having got herself in a mess by fouling up in the penultimate event yesterday, the javelin, Ennis was never going to come up smelling of roses, with a gold medal around her neck. She had thrown the spear some 45m in warm-up, yet when the pressure was on, after Chernova unleashed a mighty effort of 52.98m, the woman from the Steel City buckled, managing a best of only 39.95m – her worst mark in a heptathlon since 2007.
That left Ennis needing to beat Chernova by eight seconds in the final event, the 800m. It was never going to happen, barring the cunning plan suggested by the phantom tweeter Charles van Comedy being put into operation: "Texting Jenny Meadows, 'Throw on a dark wig, grab a quick spray tan and swap places with Jess in 800'."
As it was, true to her nature, Ennis gave it everything, haring round the first 200m in 28.33sec, through the bell in 60sec, and finishing in 2min 07.81sec, a personal best. It was not enough. Chernova finished hard on her heels, raising her arms in celebration as she crossed the line in 2:08.04.
Ennis sank to her knees on the Daegu Stadium track but was quickly up on her feet, stretching to embrace the 23-year-old Russian victor. Chernova – at 6ft 2in, taller by 10 inches – had finished behind her in all but two of the seven events (the javelin and the long jump) yet finished head and shoulders above on the scoreboard, the winner by 129 points. It was small consolation to Ennis, who amassed 6,751 points, that even her lifetime best score (6,823) would not have been sufficient to earn her a niche in the history books as the first British athlete to win back-to-back World Championship titles.
It took Chernova five years to fulfil the promise she showed as a trailblazing world junior champion but she did so with a tally of 6,880 points, the highest score since the peerless Swede Carolina Kluft signed off her unbeaten heptathlon career with a European record haul of 7,032 points at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.
As Lord Coe hung the silver medal around Ennis's neck, he gave her a consoling pat on the shoulders and no doubt whispered words of encouragement for 2012. The big British hope for home gold next summer knows she has a more than worthy rival now, as well as a winter's worth of motivational fuel to sustain her through the hard slog of training that lies ahead.
"I think it's always been a matter of time for Chernova," Ennis reflected. "She's had all the components but just never put it all together in a big championships. She did here and I need to go away and work a bit harder so I can take her next year.
"Hats off to her. I'm not going to beat myself up. Coming here and defending my title was always going to be a tough ask and I've got a silver medal. I've not shed any tears but I might do soon. Of course I'm disappointed, because I wanted the gold, but it was obviously the javelin that let me down.
"I was devastated straight after the javelin. I knew I had thrown it away. But if this was going to happen I'd rather it was here this year, before the Olympics, because next year's when I want the gold."
Ennis and her long-time coach Toni Minichiello have overcome worse setbacks. Indeed, she had been undefeated in heptathlons until yesterday since overcoming the triple stress fracture of the right foot that ruled her out of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
When they have time to fully reflect on what was a great disappointment for themselves and for the Great Britain team, Ennis and her coach will not just rue the shaky start in the 100m hurdles and the high jump and the disaster of the javelin (which came after a career-best-equalling 6.51m effort in the long jump) but also the crucial training time lost in the spring to the foot injury that kept Ennis out of the European Indoor Championships in Paris.
Not that Minichiello was making excuses last night. "I've got to put my hand up," he said. "As a coach, I've not done my job. I've let Jess down to a certain extent. She was not well enough prepared and I've got to take responsibility for that because I'm the one who writes the training programme.
"I need to work a little harder and look at myself. Jess will do the same. She's not going to shirk and hide."
Pick of today's action
1am: Women's 20km walk:
The final of the women's 20km walk is the only event of the day, as the Championships reach their midway point. British hopes lie with Middlesbrough-born Jo Jackson, who became the first UK athlete to win a major walking title with gold at the last year's Commonwealth Games. Australia's Claire Tallent will be looking for revenge after silver in Delhi, while Russian defending champion, Olga Kaniskina, and her compatriot Vera Sokolova have been in excellent form again this season. The former is aiming to retain the title for a record third time.
World Championships results
IAAF World Championships, Daegu, South Korea:
Men 400m final: 1 K James (Gren) 44.60sec; 2 L Merritt (US) 44.63; 3 K Borlee (Bel) 44.90; 4 J Gonzales (Jam) 44.99; 5 J Borlee (Bel) 45.07; 6 R Bartholomew (Gren) 45.45; 7 T Henry (ISV) 45.55; 8 F Ogunode (Qatar) 45.55. 800m final: 1 D Lekuta Rudisha (Ken) 1min 43.91sec; 2 A Kaki (Sud) 1:44.41; 3 Y Borzakovskiy (Rus) 1:44.49; 4 M Lewandowski (Pol) 1:44.80; 5 N Symmonds (US) 1:45.12; 6 A Kszczot (Pol) 1:45.25; 7 A K Yego (Ken) 1:45.83; 8 M Aman (Eth) 1:45.93. Discus throw final: 1 R Harting (Ger) 68.97m; 2 G Kanter (Est) 66.95; 3 E Hadadi (Iran) 66.08; 4 M Israel (Est) 65.2; 5 B Harradine (Aus) 64.77; 6 V Alekna (Lith) 64.09; 7 V Gowda (India) 64.05; 8 J Y. Fernandez (Cuba) 63.54; 9 P Malachowski (Pol) 63.37; 10 J Young (US) 63.2; 11 M Pestano (Sp) 63; 12 B Morse (GB) 62.69. Selected GB heats: 1500m heat 1: 10 J Shane (GB) 3:41.17. 400m hurdles semi-final heat 1: 5 J Green (GB) 49.62. Heat 2: 1 D Greene (GB) 48.62sec Q. Heat 3: 6 N Woodward (GB) 49.57. High jump qualification group A: 11 T Parsons (GB) 2.25. Group B: 13 M Bernard (GB) 2.21.
Women 3,000m steeplechase final: 1 Y Zaripova (Rus) 9min 07.03sec; 2 H Ghribi (Tun) 9:11.97; 3 M C Cheywa (Ken) 9:17.16; 4 M Wanjiku Njoroge (Ken) 9:17.88; 5 L Chebet Rotich (Ken) 9:25.74; 6 S Assefa (Eth) 9:28.24; 7 B Uslu (Tur) 9:31.06; 8 H Ouhaddou (Morocco) 9:32.36; 9 G Felicitas Krause (Ger) 9:32.74; 10 B Fente (Eth) 9:36.81; 11 L Kharlamova (Rus) 9:44.14; 12 S Moreira (Portugal) 9:47.87; 13 E Coburn (US) 9:51.40; 14 B Parker (GB) 9:56.66; 15 B Adamu (Eth) 10:05.10. Pole vault final: 1 F Murer (Br) 4.85m; 2 M Strutz (Ger) 4.8; 3 S Feofanova (Rus) 4.75; 4 J Suhr (US) 4.7; 5 Y Silva (Cuba) 4.7; 6 E Isinbaeva (Rus) 4.65; 7 J Ptacnikova (Cz Rep) 4.65; 8 N Kiriakopoulou (Gr) 4.65; 9 S Spiegelburg (Ger) 4.65; 10 K Gadschiew (Ger) 4.55; 10 M Pyrek (Pol) 4.55; 10 A Rogowska (Pol) 4.55. Heptathlon overall positions: 1 T Chernova (Russia) 6,880pts; 2 J Ennis (GB) 6,751; 3 J Oeser (Germany) 6,572; 15 L Hazel (GB) 6;149. 800m heat 2: 6 L Hazel (GB) 02:15.44. Heat 3: 2 J Ennis (GB) 02:07.8. Long jump group A: 2 J Ennis (GB) 6.51; 10 L Hazel (GB) 6.25. Javelin throw group B: 3 L Hazel (GB) 41.75; 7 J Ennis (GB) 39.95. Selected GB Heats: 1500m semi-final heat 2: 6 H England (GB) 04:08.31 q. 5,000m heat 1: 8 H Clitheroe (GB) 15:37.73 (q). 400m hurdles semi-final heat 1: 6 E Child (GB) 55.89. Heat 3: 3 P Shakes-Drayton (GB) 55.07. Triple jump qualification: Group B: 2 Y Aldama (GB) 14.35 (q).