Ennis leaps ahead of field to stay on track for world domination

Sheffield star moves smoothly into top gear on first day of the heptathlon
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If Jessica Ennis carried a weight of expectation on her shoulders as she settled into her starting blocks for the opening race on day one of the track and field World Championships yesterday, it did not show. Not remotely.

At the crack of the starter's pistol, the pride of the City of Sheffield Athletics Club was up and running as the woman to beat in the two-day, seven-event heptathlon.

Having sat at the top of the world rankings since her visit to the shores of Lake Garda for the Multistars competition at Desenzano in May, Ennis wasted no time in staking her claim to the world title in the arena where Jesse Owens won his four golds and cocked a snook at Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games. The 23-year-old South Yorkshirewoman sprang from her blocks and surged clear of the field, crossing the finish line on the blue Olympiastadion track a decisive winner of her 100 metres hurdles heat in 12.93 seconds.

That was 0.12sec shy of her personal best but 0.05sec quicker than she ran in Desenzano en route to a lifetime-best points tally of 6,587 points. It earned Ennis an opening deposit of 1,135 points and a handy lead over her most likely rival. Running in heat two, Nataliya Dobrynska, the Olympic champion from Ukraine, could only finish third in 13.85sec, almost half a second down on her best.

It was a flying start for the big British hope of these championships and she maintained her momentum through the remaining three events on the opening day, recording a season's best in the high jump, a lifetime best in the shot put and a season's best in the 200m. All of which leaves the University of Sheffield psychology graduate on course for gold – sitting pretty on a running tally of 4,124 points, leading Dobrynska by a whopping 307, with the long jump, javelin and 800m to come today. Judging on personal bests, the Olympic champion would only claw back 61 points on day two.

"I feel in really good shape," Ennis said. "Everything's been going well, but you never know in a championship. It can be up and down. I've been fortunate up till now." And making her own good fortune, she might have added.

In the high jump, the 1.64m tall Ennis could not quite clear 1.95m, her British record, but her 1.92m was the best of the day, and one centimetre more than she managed in Desenzano.

It was in the shot, though, that Ennis showed champion-class mettle. She needed to, after modest efforts of 13.07m and 12.55m left her facing the prospect of dropping vital points. With her final attempt, she sent the shot out to 14.14m, a personal best. Clearly, there are nerves of Sheffield steel within that slender 5ft 4in frame.

Dobrynska, a former shot put specialist, managed a season's best of 15.82m but in the 200m the Briton won her heat in 23.25sec, her best of 2009 in that event, while the Ukrainian clocked 25.02sec in hers. There was a smile of more than quiet satisfaction on the leader's face after a first day's job well done.

Asked whether she was on schedule or ahead of it, Ennis said: "A lit bit ahead, I suppose. It's better than I started out in Desenzano. To be honest, I was quite nervous before the hurdles. I had it in the back of my mind that something was going to go wrong and I was going to fall over or something, so it was a relief to run under 13 seconds. I started a bit shaky in the shot but I'm really pleased with what I did."

In August last year Ennis could only sit at home in Sheffield, nursing a fractured right foot, while Dobrynska set five personal bests en route to Olympic gold. Twelve months on, the diminutive Sheffielder is her country's biggest hope for World Championship gold in Berlin.

Christine Ohuruogu was Britain's only track and field gold medalist in Beijing. Yesterday the Londoner opened the defence of her world 400m title, won in Osaka two years ago, by clocking 51.30sec for second place in a first-round heat won in 51.06sec by Sanya Richards, the American who heads the world rankings.

"For me, Christine is still the number one competition," Richards said. "She has a great track record of being ready at these meets."