Ennis proves she's the big shot now

Sheffield's finest peaks in the Alps and is poised to join an illustrious list of winners today
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The Independent Online

The tree-lined peak which provides the picture-postcard Alpine backdrop to the Mosle Stadion happens to be called the Hohe Kugel – the "high ball" or "big shot". The big shots of the decathlon and heptathlon have all made their mark in the annual gathering of the world's leading all-rounders in this quaint north-west corner of Austria. It was in Götzis that Daley Thompson broke the world junior decathlon record in 1977 and the world senior record in 1980 and 1982. Roman Sebrle broke through the 9,000 points barrier here in 2001. And Jackie Joyner-Kersee, holder of the world heptathlon record since the Seoul Olympics of 1988, and Carolina Kluft, the three-time world champion, also have their names on the winners' board.

Midway through the 36th edition of the Hypo-Meeting, Jessica Ennis is poised to join the illustrious list. Thanks to the biggest shot putt of her life, the diminutive Sheffield athlete is also in with a fighting chance of eclipsing the 10-year-old British heptathlon record held by Denise Lewis, who was a winner here in 1997. Already, though, Ennis has succeeded in exorcising her personal ghost of Götzis past.

In 2008, on her one previous visit, she failed to make it to the second day. She left in tears and agony, her right foot fractured in three places and her Beijing Olympic dream also shattered. Two years on, having emerged from the worst of times to win world titles indoors and out, the 24-year-old is enjoying close to the best of times in Götzis. In the four events contested yesterday – the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot and 200m – she racked up 4,119 points, just five points shy of her running tally en route to World Championship gold in Berlin last August.

Only Joyner-Kersee, Kluft and Ennis herself have posted better first-day scores. Lewis managed 3,980 when she set the British record at Talence in the south of France in July 2000 but the former Olympic champion was significantly stronger than Ennis in two of three second day events: the long jump and javelin. "The long jump is really important," Ennis reflected. "If I can nail that then hopefully I can get close to the British record. I'd be delighted with a win. If the British record doesn't come here then hopefully it'll come later in the summer."

Victory would already appear to be as good as in the bag for Ennis. Initially, it looked like Hyleas Fountain, the Olympic silver medallist, might provide the kind of close competition that Thompson enjoyed on his world record jaunts here from the Germans Guido Kratschmer and Jürgen Hingsen. By the end of the day, though, Fountain's challenge was drying up. The American was a whopping 277 points behind in second place.

"I'd rather be in this position," Ennis said. "The long jump's going to be a tough event tomorrow, so any extra points that I have are a good thing. The heptathlon is up and down and you never know what's going to happen. It's good to have a lead like this."

At the World Championships last summer Ennis led the field from start to finish but that was in the absence of Fountain. Having suffered a neck injury halfway through the US Championships, she failed to qualify for Berlin. Blessed with a 100m hurdles personal best of 12.65sec, however, Fountain was always likely to be ahead of the world champion in the opening event in Götzis.

Thus it proved, though only marginally so. The American had a gap by the 60m mark, but the Briton closed to within 0.02sec, Fountain crossing the line first in 12.87sec and Ennis second in 12.89sec. That gave Fountain a lead of three points, but it was a more than satisfactory start for Ennis, her best ever hurdles performance in a heptathlon and 0.04sec quicker than she ran in Berlin.

At that stage the contest was looking like a two-thoroughbred affair, Nataliya Dobrynska, the Olympic champion from the Ukraine, having trailed home a sluggish fifth in her heat in 14.13sec, a massive 0.59sec down on her best. Both Dobrynska and Fountain were considerably below par in the second event, though, managing only 1.79m in the high jump.

Ennis, joint holder of the British record in the event with 1.95m, sailed over 1.91m at the first attempt but found 1.94m a height too far, dislodging the bar with her backside on her third and final attempt. Still, it was a meeting record and only 1cm off the height she cleared in Berlin, good enough for a lead of 150 points over Fountain.

It was a bit of a bum deal on the British record front but Ennis proceeded to get back on schedule in the third event of the day. With her third and final attempt in the shot – the kugel, in German – the woman from the Steel City pushed the steel ball out to 14.25m, an 11cm improvement on the lifetime best she set at last summer's World Championships.

That left the 200m and, with rain falling, Ennis proved a class apart on a soggy track, clocking 23.31sec to Fountain's 24.06. "I was a little bit disappointed with that time," Ennis confessed, "but all in all it's been a good day." Better, certainly, than the last one Sheffield's little big shot endured in the shadow of the Hohe Kugel.