- Associated Press - Friday, August 3, 2012

LONDON — Well, that sure was fast.

Expectations that the London Olympics track meet would be filled with good times were quickly confirmed on Day 1, with seven sprinters running women’s 100-meter heats in 11 seconds or better Friday night, led by the 10.83 turned in by world champion Carmelita Jeter of the U.S.

That came hours after Britain’s Jessica Ennis got things started in front of a rowdy crowd at the morning session with the fastest 100-meter hurdles ever run in the heptathlon.

Jeter was joined in Saturday’s 100 semifinals by Americans Allyson Felix and Tianna Madison. Defending Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won her heat in 11 flat; her Jamaican teammates Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kerron Stewart also advanced.

Entering the semifinals of the women’s 100 in Beijing four years ago, there was a grand total of one dash of 11 seconds or better — Stewart’s 10.98.

“This is way fast. I literally ran zero to 60, shut it down and then ran (10.99),” said Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast, who set a national record while finishing ahead of Stewart in Friday’s last 100 heat. “I can’t believe it. Whoa. Fast track.”

Imagine, then, what world-record holder Usain Bolt and his training partner, world champion Yohan Blake, might do when they get their first chance to race in 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium as the men’s 100 heats begin Saturday.

The first gold medal of track and field came Friday night in the men’s shot put, and Tomasz Majewski of Poland talked a little trash about American foes after successfully defending his title — but only barely — with a top throw of 71 feet, 10 inches (21.89 meters).

World champion David Storl of Germany earned the silver with 71-8¾ (21.86), and Reese Hoffa of Augusta, Ga., gave the U.S. the bronze with 69-8 (21.23). Hoffa had hoped to win the first U.S. gold in the men’s shot put since Randy Barnes in 1996 at Atlanta; the two other Americans were fourth and ninth in Friday’s final.

“Americans got a bit of a problem for the Olympics the last 20 years,” Majewski said. “They’ve got great guys, great athletes, but they can’t win gold in the Olympics. Sorry.”

The opening night’s other final came in the women’s 10,000 meters — and there was yet another repeat champion, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia.

Dibaba, who also won the 5,000 at Beijing in 2008, pulled away over the final lap Friday and won in 30 minutes, 20.75 seconds. Kenya collected the silver and bronze in the 10,000, with Sally Kipyego second in 30:26.37 and world champion Vivian Cheruiyot third in 30:30.44.

In the sprints, the women will race their 100 semifinals and final Saturday, and the potential for a U.S. vs. Jamaica showdown is certainly in the offing.

Not long after the stadium announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers, alerting fans to what he called a “very fast track,” Jeter built a massive lead of about 10 feet by the halfway mark of her heat. Jeter, of Gardena, Calif., won by nearly a half-second, the gold-colored soles of her neon green spikes reflecting the arena’s artificial lights.

“I just had to come out and execute, like my coach wanted me to do,” Jeter said. “I still have two more rounds to go. Everybody’s going to definitely be running their hearts out tomorrow.”

Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria delivered the second-fastest heat time, 10.93, one of eight women in the night’s seven heats who ran a personal best. Okagbare finished ahead of Madison, of Sanford, Fla., who clocked 10.97.

“Oh, yeah, sub-11 is always fun,” Madison said.

Felix, who barely made the U.S. team in the 100, had to settle for a time of 11.01, but that was good enough to win her heat. The early stages of sprint events often produce relatively mediocre times, because competitors are really only concerned with faring well enough to advance to the next round.

A two-time silver medalist in the Olympic 200, Felix finished in a dead heat for third place in the 100 at the U.S. trials and appeared headed for a run-off to break that tie until the other woman involved conceded the spot on the London team.

Campbell-Brown, who begins defense of her two consecutive Olympic golds in the 200 on Monday, won her 100 heat in 10.94. Fraser-Pryce was second-slowest off the starting line in her heat and had to hustle to finish first, so she never really was able to tell how the track felt.

“I didn’t get a chance to test it out,” Fraser-Pryce said. “I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

Anyone watching what happened Friday, right from the get-go, could sense the speed on the track.

Ennis started things off in front of a nearly full stadium shortly after 10 a.m., running the hurdles in 12.54 seconds. Not only was that the best time ever in the heptathlon’s first event, but it also equaled Dawn Harper’s gold-winning time in the 100-meter hurdle final at the Beijing Games — and actually would have been good enough to take that title at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

By day’s end, Ennis was thrusting her arms overhead to celebrate running another personal-best, this one in the 200 meters, to lead the heptathlon standings after four of seven events, with the other three scheduled for Saturday.

“You saw Jessica Ennis in the 100 (hurdles). Everybody in the back was kind of buzzing. There’s going to be some phenomenal performances here,” said Sanya Richards-Ross of the U.S., who advanced in the 400 meters in 51.78 seconds Friday morning during a brief downpour. “This track is definitely fast. You can feel it.”

All these terrific times are coming on a track built with technology that has been generating buzz all season.

Called Mondotrack, the surface has shock-absorbing material built into the bottom instead of the top, meaning the upper layer provides better traction. That, in turn, lets runners wear flatter spikes that don’t dig into the track as much, allowing for quicker turnover.

“Is this track better than Beijing? Unfortunately, I don’t have a concrete answer,” said Amy Millslagle, vice president for Olympic operations at Dow, which provides materials for the track. “You simply can’t answer that because there’s such a human element involved, and you can’t prove one track is faster than another.”

At least for one day, the runners let the numbers do the talking.

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