Olympic Stadium rocks as Jessica Ennis races into lead

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Tom Peck on a gold rush and the athletics' flying start

If there were any questions marks still lingering in the changeable skies over the London Olympics, they were obliterated yesterday.

In a packed Olympic Stadium, the diminutive, unassuming girl so many people are desperate to see become the star of the Games, burst on to the London 2012 scene in a flash of luminescence and a statement of frightening intent.

Whatever scandal there has been about empty seats, it failed to penetrate the brand new £500m stadium. There was not a spare chair to be seen as the track and field competition began yesterday with the women's heptathlon. Lousie Hazell became the first British person to run in it, in the 100m hurdles, but the cheer that greeted the emergence of Jessica Ennis, shortly before 10.30am, dwarfed anything that has reverberated around this corner of east London during the past week.

Ennis didn't appear unnerved or overwhelmed by the home support. Instead she broke the world record. She covered her face in disbelief as the big screen revealed her time, 12.54 seconds, the fastest ever run in the heptathlon.

It would have been enough to win her the gold medal in Beijing in the individual event. It was more than enough, too, to engender a roar from the Union Flag-waving crowd even louder than their first. In the evening she beat her personal best in the 200m, to lead overnight with 4,158 points, her highest after the first day. The girl, like the Olympic cauldron, is on fire.

Every host nation desperately hopes for a gold medal in athletics, the sport that so dominates the games. In Sydney it was 400m runner Cathy Freeman. In Beijing it was the hurdler Liu Xiang; when he pulled up injured before his first heat, many people inside the stadium burst into tears.

Ennis is Great Britain's best shot at gold in the Olympic Stadium this summer, and is the poster girl of the Games. Her toned midriff has been towering several storeys high on billboards on the way to the Olympic Park for some months, and the thousands of visitors who have flown into Heathrow have also seen it staring up from a farmers field in Hounslow with the message "Welcome to our Turf".

She will begin this morning with a sizeable lead, and far ahead of her two most fancied rivals, world champion Tatyana Chernova and defending Olympic champion Natallia Dobrynska. She threw below her best in the shot put, leaving her temporarily in second place, but that and the javelin are not her strongest events.

"It was such an amazing feeling. It kind of gives you goosebumps," Ennis said of her hurdles performance. "I literally cannot believe that. That's crazy. So crazy."

There were further British golds yesterday, in cycling and rowing. Across the Olympic Park at the Velodrome, the British men's pursuit team of Edward Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh obliterated their Australian opposition in the final in another world record time, swept around the circuit by a wall of sound from an audience that included Bradley Wiggins, George Osborne, Tony Blair, Prince Edward, Stella McCartney and the US basketball star Kobe Bryant.

Such was the euphoria of the occasion that when the four received their medals, the crowd broke with common Olympic practice and joined in the national anthem, sending the words of "God Save the Queen" reverberating around the arena.

Victoria Pendleton also made up for her disqualification in the team sprint by winning gold in the keirin, ahead of her rival, Australian Laura Meares, who could only manage fifth. It leaves Team GB with three gold from a possible four so far in the velodrome.

At the Eton Dorney rowing lake, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins won gold in the double sculls, roared on by the jubilant banked crowd to finish ahead of Australia.

For Grainger, 35, it was her first gold medal after winning silver at the three previous games.

"Worth the wait," she said at the finish. "Steve [Redgrave] promised me they'd be tears of joy this time, which they are. I feel this medal of all of them is the people's medal. I feel so many people have been behind me and supported me and wanted this for me as much as I have."

Round-up: How the action unfolded

* The cheers continued in the velodrome as Victoria Pendleton won an emphatic gold in the women's keirin, and the men's pursuit team took gold in world record time, beating Australia in the final.

* Team GB took a gold medal and two bronzes in the rowing at Eton Dorney, with three-time silver medallist Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins winning the women's double sculls. Will Satch and George Nash, in their first season together in the men's pair, took a bronze medal, as did Alan Campbell in the men's single scull.

* Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic 7-5, 7-5, guaranteeing himself a silver medal and setting up a dream repeat Wimbledon final with Roger Federer, who beat Juan Martín Del Potro in the longest-ever Olympic tennis match.

* Jessica Ennis made the perfect start to her bid for the heptathlon title, leading the overall field as she looks to win gold today. She ran the 100m hurdles in a record time in the discipline, before finishing ninth in the shot put and joint first in the 200m. Her teammate Katarina Johnson Thompson is 14th.

* Britain's Rebecca Adlington said: "Maybe the pressure got to me" after she was unable to defend her 800m freestyle title, only managing a bronze medal after being blown away by the phenomenal 15-year-old American Katie Ledecky.

* The UK's women's football team bowed out of the competition after a string of excellent performances, losing 2-0 to a superior Canada side in the quarter finals.

* Michael Phelps, the American swimmer who is already the most successful Olympian in history, claimed his 21st medal in style in the 100m butterfly, pipping South African Chad le Clos to the gold.

* Karina Bryant secured Britain's second judo medal in less than 24 hours, claiming a shock bronze in the heavyweight category.

* After a good day in the Finn class sailing, Ben Ainslie can now clinch his fourth gold medal if he finishes ahead of Denmark's Jonas Hogh-Christensen in Sunday's race.

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