Ennis storms away from field despite high-jump low
British record in sight for Olympic gold contender after fine first day of heptathlon in alpine setting
It was the best of times; it was the wurst of times. From the track in the Mosle Stadion yesterday you could smell the sausage sizzling on the bratwurst grills – and the sweet stuff frying at the mini donut stall.
Jessica Ennis gave both outlets a wide berth as she went about her pre-Olympic business in the picture-postcard Alpine arena that hosts the annual gathering of the world's best all-round athletes. Sheffield's finest might have been deemed "fat" by a "high ranking" UK Athletics official – as disclosed by her coach, Toni Minichiello – but she was far too lean and mean for the other heavyweights of the heptathlon on the opening day of the Hypo-Meeting here in western Austria.
Indeed, after scorching around the 200 metres in 22.88 seconds, her best time in the event by a margin of 0.23sec, a veritable street in sprinting terms, Ennis was comfortably clear of the two women who are likely to be her main rivals for Olympic gold in London in two and a half months' time. Tatyana Chernova, the Russian who relieved the 26-year-old Briton of the World Championship heptathlon title in Daegu last summer, was 229 points down in third place at the end of day one. Nataliya Dobrynska, the Ukrainian who holds the Olympic heptathlon crown and who beat Ennis to world indoor pentathlon gold in March, was 351 points behind in eighth.
Going into the second day Ennis is top of the pile with 4,113 points – on course not just for a huge psychological boost in her one heptathlon before the Olympics but also to break the British record Denise Lewis set at Talence in France in the run up to her Olympic gold, in Sydney in 2000. The South Yorkshirewoman finished just eight points shy of Lewis's 6,831 points when she won the European title in Barcelona two years ago and at the end of the first day there she had 4,080 points.
Recovering from her opening-day exploits in a wheelie bin filled with ice water, Ennis was asked whether she had been "fired up" by comments made about her in recent days. "To be honest, I'm trying to ignore them," she said. "I've obviously heard what's going round, but I'm just focused on competing as best I can."
That much was evident from the off yesterday. Ennis shot out of her blocks in the 100m hurdles and won in 12.81sec, her fastest hurdles time in a heptathlon and just 0.02sec down on her best in an individual race. It was also a meeting record.
It was a different story in the high jump. Ennis has struggled since last year in an event in which she jointly holds the British record, at 1.95m. In Daegu she could clear only 1.86m and yesterday she needed two attempts to get over 1.82m and 1.85m, before registering three failures at 1.88m.
The last time she sank as low as 1.85m was in Gotzis in 2008, when she soldiered through the opening day before being diagnosed with a triple stress fracture of the right foot. That was the worst of times for her, ruling her out of the Beijing Olympics. "I was really frustrated with the high jump," Ennis said. "It's one of my good events. I should be jumping 1.90m regularly."
A second-round effort of 14.51m in the shot eased the frustration. Then Ennis made up for the lost ground when it came to the 200m, latching on to the heels of the flying Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers, a World Championship semi-finalist in the event, and finishing the day on a personal-best high.
Asked about the British record, Ennis replied: "I would love to get it but I'm honestly not thinking about it yet. I just need to come back tomorrow and do what I'm capable of doing in the long jump and javelin and run a good 800m. If I put in a solid second day I'll come away from here happy. Just mentally, it would mean a lot confidence-wise to win here."
Not that a win is a formality. In Daegu last year Chernova made up 280 points on the second day to take the gold. But then the Sheffield woman did mess up in the javelin.
For the time being, Ennis' closest pursuer is Austra Skujyte of Lithuania, who is 221 points behind. Dobrynska looks a shadow of the athlete who racked up a world indoor record score to beat the Briton in Istanbul in March. She has, however, since lost her husband to cancer.
Ennis, for one, and Minichiello for another will not have forgotten that Dobrynska finished ninth here in 2008 then struck gold when it came to the Olympics in Beijing that summer.
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