Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson hold the advantage over their rivals after an eventful first four events in Beijing

Neither Jessica Ennis-Hill nor Katarina Johnson-Thompson enjoyed a perfect day on Saturday in the Bird’s Nest stadium, but they lead the heptathlon standings overnight ahead of Nadine Visser of Netherlands and Brianne Theisen-Eaton of Canada.

Britain’s proud tradition in female combined events looks set to continue unless disaster strikes during the final three events on Sunday.

Ennis-Hill leads with 4005 points from Johnson-Thompson’s 3925, with Visser scoring 3871 and Theisen-Eaton, the Commonwealth champion, with 3865.

“I am pleased,” said Ennis-Hill through a steely smile. “I have that feeling of slight disappointment because I’m always comparing myself to my best but I’m happy with my points today.

“I feel here’s a lot more to come, though. The athlete in me always wants that little bit more, but I’m really happy with the first events here. I had some solid performances and I can really build on it tomorrow.

“It’s going to be a battle (on day two) and hopefully we’ll get a couple of medals.”

Jessica_Ennis-Hill

Johnson-Thompson nearly exited the competition after a nightmare in the high jump where she scraped through her opening height of 1.80m on her third attempt. But the European indoor pentathlon champion threw a shot put PB and beat Ennis-Hill convincingly in her 200m heat with 23.08 to the Olympic champion’s 23.42m.

“The 200m is always a good event for me. It’s been a good day one for me,” Johnson-Thompson reflected.

On the high jump, Johnson-Thompson winced: “It was nerve wracking and due to lack of competition. My run-up was faulty and so I was glad to get over 1.89m in the end. I’m happy it didn’t all end in tears!”

During an eventful day, Johnson-Thompson temporarily fell back to ninth after 12.47m in the shot put – the third event of the day – despite throwing a PB. Ennis-Hill, meanwhile, maintained pole position with 13.73m with some solid throwing.

It was in the second event of the day, the high jump, where there was most excitement, though. While Ennis-Hill enjoyed first-time clearances up to 1.86m, Johnson-Thompson was having big problems with her run-up and required all three attempts to get over her opening height of 1.80m but went on to clear 1.86m on her first try.

Yet soon after, struggling with her run-up again and wearing a patella support on her leg, she stuttered into her attempts and needed three tries to get over 1.89m, but was the only athlete to manage that height.

Earlier in the day the world junior bronze medallist Visser of Netherlands had gone quickest in the opening event, the 100m hurdles, clocking a 12.81 PB when beating Ennis-Hill in the final heat. Ennis-Hill’s 12.91 put her just ahead of Theisen-Eaton, who proved her form with a 12.98 PB – her first time under 13 seconds.

Johnson-Thompson placed third in heat three, her time of 13.37 a PB by four hundredths of a second in a race won by Latvia’s Laura Ikauniece-Admidina in a 13.21 PB. After the first event, the top three was Visser on 1153 points, Ennis-Hill on 1138 points and Theisen-Eaton with 1127 points but it would not be long before the Britain’s assumed pole position.

“I didn’t expect to be leading at this stage,” Ennis-Hill continued. “Obviously Brianne has been performing really well all year and Kat is in great form as well.

“It is an amazing feeling to be out here. I don’t think I did anything particularly amazing, but just being able to hold my form through all the four events. I’ll be very satisfied if I can do that tomorrow.”

» See the August 27 issue of Athletics Weekly for in-depth coverage from the first four days in Beijing