There was a rude awakening for Jessica Ennis yesterday.
The storm clouds gathered over this particular corner of Europe through the early hours and dropped their load with a vengeance while the golden girl of British athletics was attempting to complete a good night's sleep ahead of the opening day of the heptathlon at the European Championships. "I got woken up by the rain," she said later, standing at trackside at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium. "I was a bit worried it was going to be horrible."
It was certainly that the last time Ennis was in heptathlon action. On the second day of the Hypo-Meeting in the tiny Austrian village of Gotzis in May, it rained cats and dogs and cows with Alpine bells on. It washed away any realistic hope the Sheffield athlete harboured of eclipsing Denise Lewis's 10-year-old British record for the two-day, seven-event test of all-round athletic ability. She finished 142 points shy of that tally with 6,689 points but prevailed by an emphatic margin. Tatyana Chernova, the tall Olympic bronze medallist from Russia, finished 117 points behind in second place.
As it happened, the sun burst through the clouds just as Ennis was settling into her starting blocks for the first event yesterday, the 100m hurdles. She led from gun to tape, crossing the line in 12.95sec – 0.06sec slower than the performance with which she opened her account in the first day sunshine in Gotzis. Still, she was running into a 1.6 metres-per-second headwind, and it represented a decent enough start in the 24-year-old psychology graduate's quest to add the European title to the world outdoor crown she won in Berlin last summer and the world indoor gold she gained in Doha in March – two years out from her long-term target of Olympic success on home soil in London.
In Berlin, Doha and Gotzis, Nataliya Dobrynska had been a shadow of the athlete who had racked up five personal bests en route to Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008, failing to mount a challenge to Ennis and finishing outside the top three on all three occasions. In the Catalan capital yesterday, though, the Ukrainian opened with a season's best time in the hurdles, 13.59sec, and then equalled her lifetime best in the high jump, 1.86m.
Ennis is a joint-holder of the British high-jump record, at 1.95m, but after making first-time clearances at every height up to 1.89m yesterday she had three failures at 1.92m. That was another performance down on Gotzis, where she cleared 1.92m. Not that the Great Britain team captain was in a downcast mood as she prepared to take a break before event No 3, the shot put.
"I'm quite pleased," she said. "It's a good, solid start. I would like to have squeezed a little bit more out of both events, really, but I'm not going to complain too much. The wind felt really strong in the hurdles, which wasn't very nice, and then it kind of turned around and got blustery for the high jump. It's not brilliant, not ideal, but I'll just have to contend with it. I'm in the lead I'm quite happy with the start."
By the end of the opening day Ennis was still in pole position after putting 14.05m in the shot and clocking a season's best of 23.21sec in the 200m. Dobrynska, a former shot put specialist, threw 15.88m in that event and then ran a lifetime best of 24.21sec in the 200m. All of which left the British favourite on 4,080 points, with a lead of 110 points.
Brits in Barcelona
10:15: After getting off to a flying start yesterday, Jessica Ennis hopes to maintain her momentum as the heptathlon concludes.
18:35: Michael Rimmer seeks to hold off the challenge of home favourite Luis Alberto Marco in the 800m final.
19:10: Rhys Williams and Dai Greene provide home interest in the 400m hurdles finale.
18:35: Dwain Chambers runs with the British quartet in the 4x100m relay, and will hope for a medal after his disappointment in the 100m.
18:35: The French could challenge GB in the final of the 4x100m relay.
20:15: Hannah England and Stephanie Twell are hopeful of featuring alongside Lisa Dobriskey in the 1,500m final.
20:40, 20:55: GB's 4x400m relay sides will expect to feature in tonight's finals. All events on BBC 2 and Eurosport