WITH the hopes of all of Yorkshire resting on her petite shoulders, Steel City-born Jessica Ennis began her campaign to win her first Olympic medal with a record-breaking performance yesterday.
A rapturous crowd in the Olympic Stadium saw Ennis begin the biggest two days of her sporting life in glorious style.
In the first day of athletics at the Games, only a handful of seats in the 80,000-capacity arena were empty as the 26-year-old recorded the fastest time for the 100m hurdles in the heptathlon, putting her in a dominant first position.
Huge cheers erupted as the Sheffield-born and bred athlete was introduced to fans, followed by an even bigger roar when her time – also a British record for the 100m hurdles – was revealed.
She smashed her personal best with a run of 12.54 sec, a time which earned American Dawn Harper Olympic gold in the individual event in Beijing.
Ennis took 0.25 sec off her personal best and 0.02 sec off the previous national record set by hurdles specialist Tiffany Porter.
That performance gave Ennis an 11-point lead over Canada’s Jessica Zelinka, whose time of 12.65 sec was a personal best. This became a 25-point lead over American Hyleas Fountain after the high jump.
Ennis cleared 1.86m and was agonisingly close to also getting over 1.89m, a height which was cleared by team-mate Johnson-Thompson for a new personal best to leave the 19-year-old third, 103 points behind Ennis.
Reigning Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska was 193 points behind Ennis in 12th, with world champion Tatyana Chernova 218 points off the pace in 16th. Britain’s Louise Hazel was down in 37th after clearing 1.59m in the high jump.
Ennis slipped to second place after the third event, the shot put, with Lithuania’s Austra Skujyte responding to the Briton’s lead with her own world heptathlon best, leaving spectators on the edge of the seats as the action counted down to Ennis’s final event of the day, one of her best events, the 200m.
Sheffield’s golden girl delivered in style, powering over the finish line with another personal best that pushed her back to the top of the leader table.
While spectators roared their approval at the Olympic stadium, crowds had also gathered at Don Valley Stadium, the heptathlete’s training ground in Sheffield, to watch her performances on a 48 sq m screen.
Among those glued to the action throughout the day were young athletes who are hoping to follow in her footsteps in Olympic Games of the future.
Ellen Robbins-Wilkinson, 10, said: “She’s doing really well.” She said she liked her because “she perseveres a lot and she’s worked hard to get there.” Ellen’s mother, Jilly Wilkinson, said: “I think it’s very inspiring for everyone that she’s local. She’s doing so incredibly well.”
Caitlin Rimmer, nine, said: “I like that she’s confident and always tries her hardest. Loads of people are supporting her.”
Caitlin Tevendale, who runs with the juniors at Hallamshire Harriers, said: “We’ve seen her training here a couple of times. She just like our role model.”
Hundreds of people are expected to pour into Don Valley Stadium today to watch the conclusion of Ennis’s gold medal attempt.
The Olympics viewing at the stadium has been organised to coincide with the two-day Sheftival festival.
Ennis started running at the Don Valley Stadium when she joined the City of Sheffield Athletics Club at 13.
Unusually for a world-class athlete, she still competes for the club in league meetings.
A hot air balloon also took off from King Ecgbert School in Dore yesterday to wish good luck to its most famous ex-pupil.
Bearing a banner reading “Good Luck Jess”, the balloon took to the skies after well-wishers, including the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, John Campbell, sent messages of support to the heptathlete.
Sheffielders have been firmly behind Ennis ever since she was a budding athlete tearing around the Don Valley Stadium track.
Three years ago, after winning Britain’s first World Championship heptathlon gold in Berlin, she was presented with a Mulberry handbag by then-council leader Paul Scriven on behalf of the city at a civic reception.