Ennis edges closer to gold after extending heptathlon lead with soaring long jump
11:43 GMT, 4 August 2012
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Britain's Jessica Ennis surged ever closer to Olympic gold in the heptathlon on Saturday morning with a superb performance in the long jump.
Ennis began day two with a lead of 184 points after personal bests in the 100m hurdles and 200m, and extended her advantage over Lithuania's Austra Skujyte to 258 points.
Ennis has struggled with her run-up this season, committing seven fouls in 12 attempts during two competitions earlier this summer, and managed just 5.95m with her first attempt.
Go Jess: Ennis is closing in on the heptathlon gold medal after a superb performance in the long jump
However, the 26-year-old then hit the board perfectly on her second to soar out to 6.40m, just 11cm down on her personal best, and there was better still to come in the final round as another capacity 80,000 crowd roared the former world champion down the runway and out to 6.48m for 1,001 points.
World champion Tatyana Chernova was the only athlete to jump further than Ennis, a leap of 6.54m moving her up from ninth to third and 290 points behind Ennis, but reigning Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska's challenge is over after two fouls and a last aborted attempt of 3.70m dropped her to 33rd.
Ennis began her quest for Olympic gold on a tidal wave of love.
Giant leap: Ennis competes in the women's heptathlon long jump event at the Olympic Stadium
She was swept along by the British support among the 80,000 who had filled the Olympic Stadium before breakfast on Friday for one reason only: our Jess, the nation’s darling and golden girl. And by the day’s end they had lifted her to the overnight lead and the largest first-day score of her life.
‘Full on the first morning! I do not remember the last time that’s happened,’ said IAAF president Lamine Diack, who at 79 has been around to see more Olympic Games than most.
Ennis’s first name had only to be mentioned for the roar to bounce around the bowl and drown out the announcer. The lady herself smiled broadly. Pressure, what pressure She was determined to enjoy her first Olympics, and the crowd with her.
Out in front: Ennis extended her advantage over Lithuania's Austra Skujyte to 258 points
And how she rewarded them! From the moment she began the first of seven events that would keep her occupied for two days, she returned their passion and emotion in spades.
She was not even expected to win her heat of the opening 100 metres hurdles because next to her was Jessica Zelinka, the Canadian 100m hurdles champion. So the result was astonishing.
The music booming out was from the film Kick-Ass and this was a performance beyond even Ennis’s dreams, an improvement of a quarter of a second on what she had run before. The scoring tables were entering unknown realms; no hurdler has ever run as fast as 12.54sec in a heptathlon.
Flying: The Sheffield girl battled back from a poor start to record an excellent 6.48m jump
Multi-event athletes are supposed to be the jack of all trades and masters, or mistresses, of none. Steve Ovett, the great miler, dismissed decathlon in the days of Daley Thompson as ‘nine Mickey Mouse events and the 1500 metres’.
The ancient Greeks saw the winner as Victor Ludorum, the champion of champions. Modern Americans are of the same attitude, most probably because their people win multi-events so often and presently own the world record in decathlon and heptathlon. The contrary view — that multi-events are for the sport’s jetsam from real events — is more widespread in the athletic fraternity
Now Ennis is good enough to match any sprint hurdler. Her time of 12.54sec would have won every Olympic gold in the event. Zelinka, the specialist hurdler, ran the fastest of her career and was still 0.11sec behind her.
Ennis’s time returned to a British-born athlete the British record for the event annexed briefly by the American cuckoo in the nest, Tiffany Porter. It earned Ennis 1,195 points, so immediately she was up on the score she recorded in Gotzis, Austria, 10 weeks ago, when she went on to set a new British record.
Roar of delight: Ennis celebrates her brilliant recovery in the long jump
Indeed she was way ahead of what she required to join the exalted ranks of the three women who have exceeded 7,000 points and quicker than American Jackie Joyner-Kersee when she set the world record — which still stands — at 7,291 points while winning Olympic gold in 1988.
More significantly, in the contest for gold here she was 142 points ahead of world champion Tatyana Chernova and 155 ahead of defending Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska. ‘Nice start,’ tweeted Ennis’s coach Toni Minichiello, the master of understatement.
Ennis could not believe it. ‘I’m still in shock from the hurdles, to be honest,’ she said when she left the arena for lunch in the Athletes’ Village and a quick nap before Friday evening’s continuation.
‘I can’t believe I ran that time. What a great start! I knew I was in shape to run 12.7 or 8 but not 12.5.’
Best of British: Ennis thanks the crowd in the Olympic Stadium for their raucous support
But Skujyte does not run as well as she throws, and Ennis sprints a lot better. Skujyte managed 25.43 in the 200m; in the final heat Ennis flashed over the track in 22.83, the fastest of her career.
Her overnight score was 4,158, a lead over Skujyte, the nearest challenger, of 184 points. More significantly Chernova was back in ninth and Dobrynska 10th, neither within 300 points of Ennis. They are out of contention for gold.
Ennis is not so far ahead of others that we can hang a gold round her neck. Others will be better than her in javelin, and she may be reduced to what she fears most — a burn-up for gold over 800m on Saturday evening.
But she has something on her side the others cannot command — the best part of 80,000 fans, who lifted her to new heights and are back today to do their bit to bring home the gold medal.