Defending champion Jessica Ennis-Hill ended the first day of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games heptathlon – part of the IAAF Combined Events Challenge – in first place, but the Briton has been under pressure.
The cheers may not have been quite as loud and the weather may not have been quite so bright, but Ennis-Hill evoked memories of her Olympic victory from four years ago as she sped to the fastest clocking of the day in the heptathlon 100m hurdles.
The 30-year-old lined up in the fourth and final heat of the opening event and won by a comfortable margin in 12.84, her second-fastest time ever at a major championships.
Akela Jones of Barbados finished second to Ennis in 13.00, her fastest ever time within a heptathlon. Nadine Visser of the Netherlands and USA’s Kendell Williams were next across the line in 13.02 and 13.04 respectively.
World indoor champion Brianne Theisen-Eaton was a little short of her best, finishing sixth in that heat in 13.18.
European champion Anouk Vetter finished just ahead of Katarina Johnson-Thompson in their heat with times of 13.47 and 13.48 respectively. Latvia’s world bronze medallist Laura Ikauniece-Admidina recorded 13.33 to win her heat, while Germany’s Carolin Schafer also impressed, clocking a PB of 13.12.
Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam was only 12th fastest overall, but her 13.56 clocking was a lifetime best, putting her on PB pace from the outset.
Estonia’s Grit Sadeiko wasn’t so fortunate, however, and failed to finish her heat after hitting a hurdle.
Not long after Almaz Ayana broke the world record in the 10,000m, a world best fell in the heptathlon high jump.
Thiam and Johnson-Thompson had clear cards up to and including 1.92m. Johnson-Thompson then sailed over 1.95m on her first try, while Thiam needed three jumps to succeed.
With the bar at 1.98m, Thiam was the first to go clear, adding one centimetre to the world heptathlon best she set at the 2014 European Championships. Johnson-Thompson had one failure but then successfully negotiated the height on her second attempt, breaking the British high jump record in the process.
Event leader Ennis-Hill was also pleased with her performance. The world champion cleared a season’s best of 1.89m – her second-best jump at a global championships – to keep alive her hopes of retaining her Olympic title.
Theisen-Eaton looked to be in danger after two failures at 1.86m, but she nailed the height on her third attempt to secure her best ever clearance at a major championships.
Jones cleared 1.89m, which was nine centimetres shy of her outright PB, but enough to stay on course to produce a lifetime best in the heptathlon.
After two events, Johnson-Thompson led with 2264, 12 points ahead of Thiam, while Ennis-Hill was third with 2242.
Thiam followed her world heptathlon high jump best with the top performance of the day in the shot put.
The Belgian opened with 14.41m and added half a metre to that with her final effort of 14.91m. It gave her the overall lead in the competition with 3107.
Ennis-Hill seemed disappointed not to throw beyond 14 metres, but her 13.86m effort was her best mark in a championship heptathlon since the 2012 Olympics.
Johnson-Thompson managed just 11.68m, dropping from first to sixth overall. Theisen-Eaton managed a best throw of 13.45m to maintain her fifth-place position in the overall standings.
Other athletes moved up the leaderboard, though, including USA’s Barbara Nwaba. Her 14.81m heave moved her from 12th to ninth. Jones went from fourth to third, thanks to her 14.09m effort.
Vetter also produced one of the better marks of the competition. Her 14.78m throw bumped her up to 12th place overall. Schafer was one of the few athletes to set a PB in this event. Her 14.57m moved her into fourth place.
After a disappointing shot put, Johnson-Thompson ended her day on a high by recording the fastest time in the 200m.
Drawn in lane six in the fastest heat, Johnson-Thompson led coming off the bend and maintained her form through the end, crossing the line in 23.26. Although it was shy of her 22.79 PB she set earlier this year, it moved her up from sixth to fourth place and brought her overall tally to 3957, her best ever day-one score.
Ennis-Hill finished within a stride or two of her teammate, crossing the line in 23.49. It meant the Briton regained the overall lead, ending the day with 4057, 52 points higher than her day-one score from last year’s World Championships.
Thiam dropped from first to second overall after clocking 25.10 in the 200m. But her score of 3985 is easily her best ever first-day tally and puts her well within medal contention.
Theisen-Eaton’s chances of a medal could be in jeopardy, though, after the Canadian crossed the line in 24.18 in her 200m heat, dropping to sixth place overall.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF