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Golden girl Ennis starts her big push to take on world

Heptathlon champion is preparing to defend her title by taking on best of Brits

The flags were fluttering from the lampposts all the way up Walsall Road yesterday. Every one of them was displaying an image of Jessica Ennis. The golden girl of British athletics is not just the face of 2012, but also of the 2011 Aviva UK Trials and Championships.

"I do notice things like that," the world and European heptathlon champion confessed, after negotiating three events on day two of the action at the Alexander Stadium. "They're everywhere. It's great to promote athletics and the event. It's all good."

All appears to be good for Ennis, 12 months out from the London Olympics, and four weeks away from the defence of her World Championship title in Daegu, South Korea. Unbeaten in the heptathlon since 2007, the 25-year-old Sheffield woman is sitting pretty at the top of the world rankings. Not that the planet's predominant all-round female athlete is resting on anything resembling a premature laurel leaf.

"My first two throws were rubbish," Ennis said after a couple of below-par efforts in her first event, the shot put. Even a third-round mark of 14.25 metres, equalling her lifetime best outdoors, was not entirely satisfactory. "It's not my actual personal best," she said. "My indoor PB is 14.61m."

A victory in the high jump with a clearance of 1.89m, 6cm shy of her British record, was deemed no more than "an OK performance". Still, after finishing her demanding day with a 12.96sec as runner-up to British record holder Tiffany Porter's impressive 12.76sec in the 100m hurdles, Ennis did concede: "I'm quite tired now but I've had some good performances. My rivals are upping their game and I need to be on top of mine. It's going to be a tough challenge in Daegu and even tougher in London."

Ennis will be back in action today, in the long jump and the javelin. Perri Shakes-Drayton contests the final of her specialist 400m hurdles, having scalped the reigning Olympic champion to win the flat 400m title yesterday. The 22-year-old prevailed in 51.52sec with a fellow East Ender, Christine Ohuruogu, finishing behind Shana Cox in third, in 51.91sec. For Ohuruogu, with less than a month full training behind her, it was no disaster. Her selection for the World Championships is not under threat, although the Beijing Olympic champion is unlikely to be on top of her one lap game in Daegu. "I'll just wing it," she said.

Mark Lewis-Francis is only likely to be winging it to South Korea as a relay runner. A European Championship silver medallist last summer, the Birchfield Harrier was disqualified from the 100m final for a false start and the three individual spots on the British team now seem destined for Dwain Chambers, who won in 10.09sec, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Marlon Devonish, who finished second and third respectively, both clocking 10.14sec. Michael Bingham, another European silver medal winner last year, failed to make the final in the men's 400m, the event singled out by Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, to illustrate athletes who are "underperforming" a year out from the 2012 Olympics. Still, Martyn Rooney, the European bronze medallist, made it through, winning his heat in 45.56sec.

Asked about the return to action in Stockholm on Friday night of LaShawn Merritt, and the chance of the American doping offender defending his Olympic 400m crown in London, Rooney replied: "I always stood up for him and said he was clean. When he failed a drugs test he made me look like an idiot."