Ennis off to good start at World Indoors

Britain’s Jessica Ennis is on course for gold – and possibly a world record – at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul

Jessica Ennis (Mark Shearman)

The women’s pentathlon at the IAAF World Indoor Championships had been hyped as one of the biggest head-to-head clashes of the weekend, with defending champion Jessica Ennis taking on world heptathlon champion Tatyana Chernova. But if the first few events are anything to go by, the competition might not be as close as first thought.

Both Ennis and Chernova had been in PB form this winter over the 60m hurdles, but when it came down to it this morning in Istanbul, it was Ennis who came closest to replicating that lifetime best. She blasted out of the blocks and executed a flawless race to win in 7.91 – her second-best ever time, and the fastest performance in history within a pentathlon.

Several strides behind, Chernova finished second in 8.29 – some way shy of her recent 8.02 personal best and only just enough to hold off Olympic champion Natalia Dobrynska (8.38). World leader Yekaterina Bolshova had a very poor start and her time, 8.62, suffered as a result.

But after a superb start in the first event, Ennis narrowly averted a near disaster in the high jump. Usually one of her strongest disciplines, the event got off to a shaky start during warm-up when the photo finish equipment was obstructing part of Ennis’s high jump run-up. After discussions with the officials, the problem was rectified and the event got underway. But Ennis still never looked entirely at ease and struggled at 1.87m – a height that usually would be no problem for someone who has a best of 1.95m.

She got over it on her third attempt, but then failed three times at 1.90m. Meanwhile, Yana Maksimava and Austra Skujyte both cleared that mark to set lifetime bests. Fortunately for Ennis, Chernova and Dobrynska only cleared 1.84m so the Briton maintained her lead.

Fired up after the high jump, Ennis went into the shot all guns blazing. She opened with a safe 13.89m, then improved to 14.39m – her best-ever mark within a pentathlon. But she wasn’t done there and in the final round she putted 14.79m – an outright personal best.

It meant she ended the morning session with a leading score of 3064, 43 points ahead of British record pace and within touching distance of the world record. Should she equal her PBs of 6.47m in the long jump and 2:12.55 in the 800m, she would score 4989 – just two points shy of the world record. Any slight improvement in those events could see her better Irina Belova’s world record.

Chernova is currently in fifth with 2880, but has two good events to go. But her task now is more about holding on to the silver medal from Dobrynska (3035).

World indoor record-holder Ashton Eaton is similarly on world-record pace in the men’s heptathlon. He overcame a poor start in the men’s 60m to post the fastest performance of the competition, but he was still disappointed with his time of 6.79 – some 0.13 down on his PB.

But the American used that disappointment as motivation for the following event and Eaton unleashed a big PB of 8.16m – the best-ever legal mark in any combined events competition, indoors or out. It extended his lead and put him 51 points ahead of world-record pace. Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov is currently in second place after 6.87 in the 60m and 7.68m in the long jump, and he will hope to hold off the challenge from Andrey Kravchenko, who opened with 7.46 for the 60m and 7.36m in the long jump.

Qualification round-up

As is always the case at major championships, this first morning session was packed with heats and qualifying rounds. With her opening jump in the first event of the championships, Britain’s Yamile Aldama leaped into medal contention in the women’s triple jump. Her 14.62m was easily the best mark of the whole qualifying round, and defending champion Olga Rypakova (14.39m) was the only other athlete to nail the auto-qualifier.

At 39, Aldama is the oldest ever finalist, man or woman, in a jumps event at the World Indoors. Former champion Yargelis Savigne squeaked through to get the last spot in the final with 14.09m, but other medal contenders did not make the cut, including Kseniya Dziatsuk, Niki Paneta and Victoria Valyukevich.

Following on from Aldama’s exploits, fellow veteran Helen Clitheroe also progressed to the final from the women’s 3000m heats. Running in the second heat, Clitheroe clocked 9:02.27 to grab the first of the fastest loser spots. Both heats saw the same order of countries take the top three spots – Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar won the first heat in 9:11.76 from Sylvia Kibet of Kenya (9:11.91) and Ukraine’s Svitlana Schmidt (9:12.39), while the second heat was won by Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka (9:01.32) from Kenya’s Hellen Obiri (9:01.36) and Ukraine’s Nataliya Tobias (9:01.76).

400m favourite Sanya Richards-Ross won her heat with ease in 52.81, although Ukraine’s Nataliya Pygyda was the fastest in the first round with her 52.02. Britain’s Nadine Okyere finished second to Richards-Ross in her heat to progress to the next round, while Shana Cox won her heat in 53.24 to also make it to the semi-finals.

Britain’s Andrew Osagie had a nervous wait after missing out on a top-two automatic qualifying spot in his 800m heat. But as it transpired, his 1:49.73 was the quickest of the fastest loser spots. Team mate Joe Thomas clocked the exact same time in his heat, but made easier work of it and led from the start to win.

All the main medal favourites made it through to the semi-finals with Mohamed Aman, Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski all finishing a safe second in their respective heats. The only notable athlete to miss out was Olympic silver medallist Ismail Ahmed Ismail, whose 1:50.72 was just a few hundredths shy of the cut.

The women’s 800m was even more brutal, as the three heats were effectively semi finals with only the winner of each making it through automatically to the final. First to sweat it out was Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo, who was caught on the line by European indoor bronze medallist Yuliya Rusanova (2:00.26). But Jelimo’s 2:00.32 proved to be more than enough to make the final. World leader Malika Akkaoui was not so fortunate in the second heat.

In what was a scrappy race, the Morrocan never really seemed to be in the running and trailed in fifth (2:04.20). It was Ethiopian 19-year-old Fantu Magiso who took the race by the scruff of the neck with an impressive turn of speed on the final lap, winning in 2:01.69. But Britain’s Marilyn Okoro, fourth in 2:04.06, was devastated with her run. Elena Kofanova won the third heat with the fastest performance of the day, 1:59.80. USA’s Erica Moore ran a PB of 2:00.24 to take second and make the final.

World champion Kirani James looked supreme in the heats of the men’s 400m. The young Grenadian won in 46.64, winning his heat from Nery Brenes – a real medal contender – who clocked 46.77. But fastest of the day was world 200m leader Demetrius Pinder, who clocked 46.49.

Both Brits, Richard Buck and Nigel Levine, progressed to the semi-finals. Levine won his heat by more than a second in 47.56, while Richard Buck was second in his heat (47.05). Defending champion Chris Brown of the Bahamas was another easy qualifier, winning his heat in 47.28.

With eleven women clearing 1.92m in the high jump qualifying, the bar needed to be raised to the auto mark of 1.95m to determine the eight finalists. The round was led, unsurprisingly, by world champion Anna Chicherova, who recorded no failures en route to her 1.95m clearance. Chaunte Lowe, Antonietta Di Martino, Tia Hellebaut and Ruth Beitia all made it through too, but Sweden’s Emma Green and Russia’s Irina Gordeyeva both missed the cut.

Perhaps the highest quality event of the morning session was the men’s shot. The top three marks in the qualifying round would have been good enough for a medal at all previous editions of the World Indoor Championships, bar 2010. World champion David Storl was the best of the bunch with his 21.43m, followed by Reese Hoffa (21.23m) and Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski (21.17m).

In a tactical first heat of the men’s 1500m, only three athletes progressed in the automatic spots, topped by Turkey’s home hope Ilham Tanui Ozbilen (3:41.93). But his former team-mate and medal favourite, Kenya’s Bethwell Birgen, was run out of a top-three spot along with USA’s Galen Rupp and Ireland’s world finalist Ciaran O’Lionaird.

The second heat was faster from the outset, and Morocco’s Abdelaati Iguider showed exactly why he is the world leader, winning comfortably in 3:38.41. Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremedhin, world bronze medallist Matt Centrowitz, and Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat also progressed to the final. But British duo Lewis Moses and James Brewer were off the pace, finishing ninth and 11th respectively in their heats.

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