- Associated Press - Friday, August 3, 2012

LONDON — Jessica Ennis kicked off the London Olympic athletics meet early morning with the fastest 100-meter hurdles ever run in the heptathlon and added a great 200 under darkened skies to take a big step toward gold for the host nation in the seven-event competition.

All day with Ennis, the fervent home crowd in the packed 80,000 stadium backed her with incessant cheers and the waving of the Union flag as she even exceeded expectations ahead of Saturday’s final three events.

Ennis has been cherished in the host nation for years as perhaps the best chance for gold in athletics at the Olympics, and the crowd let it be know the wait was finally over. She lived up to those expectations immediately as she shot out the blocks of her first event and stayed strong through the day.

“It was such an amazing feeling. It kind of gives you goosebumps,” Ennis said of the crowd.

After four events, she had already left world champion Tatyana Chernova and defending champion Natallia Dobrynska well behind and with her best 200 ever, her nervous morning grimace had turned into a beaming smile as cameras flashed all round the Olympic stadium.

Ennis totaled 4,158 points, her highest ever score after the opening day, and held a lead of 184 over Austra Skujyte of Lithuania, who briefly held top spot after the biggest shot put in the history of the heptathlon.

Saturday still has the Long jump, javelin and the 800.

Friday was already spectacular enough.

With the stadium focussed mostly on the heptathlon, Tomasz Majewski of Poland became the first repeat champion in the shot put since 1952-56, beating world champion David Storl.

The 30-year-old Majewski set a mark of 21.89 meters to upset the odds again, just like he did at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Storl, 22, earned the silver medal at 21.86 and Reese Hoffa won the bronze with a mark of 21.23 for the United States, which has not won an Olympic men’s shot put title since Randy Barnes in 1996.

Thousands of fans waved the British flag and gave Ennis a huge ovation when Ennis was first introduced in the morning for the last heat of the hurdles and she responded with a time of 12.54 seconds, beating the previous best in a heptathlon of 12.62 by Eunice Barber of France in 2005.

She held her hands over her face in disbelief as the time showed on the big screen, realizing she had sliced one-quarter of a second off her best time and set a national hurdles record in the process.

“I literally cannot believe that. That’s crazy. So crazy,” Ennis said. “I’m just so glad I did it here and did it in the heptathlon, where I needed it most.”

Her time Friday equaled the gold-medal performance by Dawn Harper in the 100 hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“I had to get a bit closer to the screen to doublecheck the time. Those sort of things are amazing for team morale,” Britain team captain Dai Greene said.

Ennis knew she had to perform strongly on the opening day of the heptathlon, considering her worst of the seven events are on Saturday.

After her great start few doubted she would stay top throughout the day, but Skujyte replied with 17.31 meters in the shot put, 3.03 meters beyond Ennis’s best and suddenly the British hopeful faced a challenge. Skujyte’s mark was 2 centimeters further than the old mark of Dobrynska.

Then the 200 turned everything around again, with Ennis getting 22.83 seconds, .05 within her previous best.

If Ennis confirmed the track was fast, so did the women in the 100 heats.

Carmelita Jeter finished her heat in 10.83 seconds and five more women went under the 11-second mark, including double 200 Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica and U.S. runner Tianna Madison.

Noor Hussain Al-Malki, one of the first women ever selected by Qatar for the Olympics, barely got out of the blocks at the London Games in the 100 preliminaries. Wearing a headcovering and full length sleeves, the 17-year-old sank to the gund after some 15 meters and clutched her right hamstring in pain before she was taken away in a wheelchair.

Doping scandals also did not miss their start on the opening day of the athletics program.

Three-time world champion hammer thrower from Belarus Ivan Tsikhan was kicked out of the London Olympics on Friday because an IOC retest found his doping samples from the 2004 Athens Games to be positive.

And in the 1,500, Morocco’s Amine Laalou was a non-starter in his heat, following media reports he had been involved in a doping case.

IAAF spokesman Nick Davies could not confirm the report and Morocco’s federation secretary general Hammed Rhaziane did not respond to calls to his cell phone.

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