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Britain's Ennis stays strong in Olympic heptathlon

Friday - 8/3/2012, 6:51pm  ET

By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer

LONDON (AP) - Britain's Jessica Ennis stared at the scoreboard, waiting for her time to post, and then thrust her arms into the air.

Another personal best. Another crowd-pleasing performance.

Ennis closed out the first day of the Olympic heptathlon by running the 200 meters in a personal-record 22.83 seconds to take a 184-point lead with three events left.

Ennis, who opened the Olympic track meet Friday morning by running the 100-meter hurdles in a heptathlon record of 12.54 seconds, returned for the night session and picked up where she left off.

Competing in front of another capacity crowd at Olympic Stadium, many of them waving British flags, Ennis recorded a shot put of 46 feet, 10 1/4 inches (14.28 meters), then closed the night with another fast time on the track.

She finished with 4,158 points, while Lithuania's Austra Skujyte had 3,974 and Canada's Jessica Zelinka had 3,903. American Hyleas Fountain, from Daytona Beach, Fla., was fifth with 3,900 points.

"I'm absolutely elated with today, to have performed like that with two personal bests and to end it with a PB was a brilliant start to the (heptathlon)," Ennis said.

She had reason to be thrilled.

With nearly all 80,000 seats filled for the first taste of Olympic track and field, Ennis wowed the home crowd by finishing the 100-meter hurdles in the fastest time ever in the heptathlon's first event.

How fast? It matched Dawn Harper's gold-winning time in the 100-meter hurdles final at the Beijing Games _ and would've been good enough to take that title at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

"To be honest, I couldn't have imagined performing like this," Ennis said. "I've definitely exceeded my expectations today."

Imagine what a treat it was for the home fans, who have been wringing their hands over every aspect of these games: the megamillion-pound costs, the security, the quality of the subway and train service and, of course, the quality of the athletes who would be representing the host country.

On this particular morning, everything worked out better than they could have hoped.

Fans rolled out of bed, poured into the javelin trains heading to Olympic Park, jammed the turnstiles at the stadium and were in place before Ennis left the warm-up area shortly before 10 a.m. They waved their Union Jacks and cheered every British athlete with roars often reserved for gold medalists.

"The crowd _ I have no words to describe," British triple jumper Yamile Aldama said. "I've been to five Olympic Games and in qualifying, you never experience this. Never. It's just always kind of empty because it's in the mornings. This is great. This is 'Great' Britain. British people are great. They like athletics. They like sport."

And to think, a short week ago, so much of the buzz at these Olympics was about fans not showing up to events.

"A fabulous, fabulous experience," said British shot putter Carl Myerscough, who finished 14th in qualifying and won't move onto the final. "It's what I expected. I knew it was going to be amazing. You can't really replicate it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. All the more reason I'm disappointed. I maybe was guilty of trying too hard."

Ennis, dealing nicely with the pressure of competing on home turf with gold-medal expectations, broke the seven-year-old world mark in the heptathlon hurdles (12.62) held by Eunice Barber of France and the Olympic record (12.69) held since 1988 by six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

"I literally cannot believe that," Ennis said. "That's crazy, so crazy. I'm just so glad I did it here."

The deafening roars kept coming for Ennis each time she cleared a height in the second of heptathlon's seven events, the high jump. When she finally missed, the crowd gasped and groaned.

Not to worry. Ennis still had the lead after clearing 6 feet, 1 1/4 inches. She dropped to second place briefly following the shot put, but wasted little time moving back atop the standings in the 200.

"She's amazing," Fountain said, summing up the feelings of many of the 80,000 around her.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)