LONDON — Crowding the turnstiles and waving their Union Jacks, nearly 80,000 fans arrived early for the start of the Olympic athletics meet Friday morning.
This show was worth the early wake-up call.
British heptathlete Jessica Ennis got things going by finishing the 100-meter hurdles in 12.54 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded in the opening race of the event. She broke the seven-year-old world mark (12.62) held by Frenchwoman Eunice Barber and the Olympic record (12.69) held since 1988 by none other than Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Despite the record, her score of 1,195 points was only 17 better than Jessica Zelinka of Canada, who ran a personal-best 12.65. Three other athletes in that heat alone, including 2008 silver medalist Hyleas Fountain of the United States, also ran personal bests on what has been touted as a fast track.
Later in the day, the fast-track theory will get a bigger test in the women's 400-meter preliminaries. The race features American Sanya Richards-Ross and home-country favorite Christine Ohuruogu, who is looking to defend her Olympic title.
Britain's Dai Greene, the reigning world champion, won his first heat in the 400 hurdles in 48.98 seconds and was showered with loud applause as he crossed the line. Beijing runner-up Kerron Clement of the United States also made it through.
In the men's shot put, American Reese Hoffa led qualifying with a throw of 70 feet, 1 inch (21.36 meters). Hoffa was considered a strong medal contender in Beijing, but finished seventh. His American teammates, Beijing silver medalist Christian Cantwell and Ryan Whiting made it through for Friday night's final, as did defending champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland.