Doping cloud can't spoil athletics opening party

POSTER GIRL: British heptathlete Jessica Ennis.
POSTER GIRL: British heptathlete Jessica Ennis.

Athletics crashed the Olympics party in spectacular style as a sun-drenched 80,000-strong crowd and a wonderful stadium produced a stunning backdrop for the first day of action from the Games' premier sport.

However, just as everyone was congratulating themselves, the dark cloud of doping loomed large again with local media reporting that leading Belarusian hammer thrower Ivan Tsikhan had been withdrawn from the Games and faced a possible life ban after a second positive test.

The home fans, though, had eyes only for what was in front of them and were given the perfect start as in the first track action of the day when Briton Jessica Ennis ran the fastest heptathlon 100 metres hurdles of all time to justify her place as the poster girl of the Games.

Every seat was sold and just about every one of them seemed to be filled on a classic English summer's day, where bright sunshine alternated with rain, but where impressive heat times indicated that the Games has a razor-fast track on its hands.

"It was wonderful to arrive at the Olympic Games this morning and see a totally packed stadium for the first session of athletics," said Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Associations (IAAF).

"I do not remember the last time this happened and it shows the great affection Britain has for our sport. LOCOG has done a great job and we are excited about the rest of the athletics programme, since the athletes will definitely be inspired by crowds like this."

Ennis certainly was, though a close-up of her face on the big screen as the crowd erupted when she appeared showed her gulp and look a little nervous.

If she was, it did not last long as the former world champion scorched through in12.54 seconds, the same time Dawn Harper ran to win 100 metres hurdles gold at the Beijing Olympics.

Ennis, who missed the Games four years ago with a foot injury, cleared 1.86 metres in the high jump to lead the heptathlon after two events from American Hyleas Fountain and another Briton Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

The competition continues later on Friday with shot put and 200 metres before the long jump, javelin and 800m on Saturday.

Another British hope, world 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene, also looked good but faces a stiffer battle to overcome American trio Kerron Clement, Michael Tinsley and Angelo Taylor as well as Puerto Rican Javier Culson.

Culson, quickest in the world this year, was the fastest qualifier in 48.33 seconds while defending champion Taylor also safely went through as he bids to become the first man to win three 400m hurdles Olympic golds.



Taylor was one of many overseas athletes to praise the crowd, who gave hearty support not only to their own.

"It's crazy," he said. "I've been to three Olympics and I never seen anything like that."

Amantle Montsho's bid to win Botswana's first Olympic medal got off to a smooth start as the world champion eased through in 50.40 seconds as the fastest qualifier in the women's 400m hurdles.

Defending champion Christine Ohuruogo of Britain, Russian Antonina Krivoshapka and Americans DeeDee Trotter, Francena McCorory and Sanya Richards-Ross also looked comfortable. "This track is definitely fast, you can feel it," said Richards-Ross, bronze medallist in Beijing.

Japan's Koji Murofushi threw a season's best 78.48metres to lead the qualifiers into the men's hammer final but there was more interest in a man who failed to take his place.

Three-times world champion and 2004 silver medallist Tsikhan, who was stripped of his 2008 bronze after a failed test, was withdrawn from the Games by his national federation after a request from the IAAF following re-tests of samples from the 2004 Games and 2005 world championships.

Tsikhan successfully appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the 2008 fan but the IOC have yet to reinstate him - or team mate Vadim Devyatovskiy, who was also stripped of his silver in Beijing for a doping offence but won his appeal.

A more uplifting story on Friday came in the women's 100 metres preliminaries as Afghan Tahmina Kohistani virtually jogged her heat in 14.42 seconds - which turned out to be a national record.

Even taking part was a success though for the only woman from the war-torn country to compete at the London Games, who has faced fierce opposition.

"I have a message for the women of Afghanistan," she said. "Come and join Tahmina because I need your support."

The first athletics medals will be decided in Friday's evening session, with the men's shot and women's 10,000 metres finals.