Olympics 2012 athletics – Day 1: From Ennis to Ethiopia

No pressure, then.

Yes! The real Olympics are on at last! It seems like ages since James Bond shoved the Queen out of a helicopter, but finally we’ve got some action in the Olympic Stadium again.

The first track gold, in the women’s 10,000 metres, went to defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, relegating her main rival and world champion Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya to third. Another Kenyan, Sally Kipyego, took silver.

The race started in surreal fashion, with three Japanese athletes setting off on a 20-metre lead to be joined by Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton. The sight of an Irishwoman trailing a team of three brought back memories of the three Chinese athletes who beat Sonia O’Sullivan in the World Championship 3,000 metres in 1993. By halfway the escapees had been caught; Britton’s plan to set a strong early pace hadn’t worked. Right on 5,000 metres Worknesh Kidane injected pace to help her compatriot Dibaba – and with 3,000 metres to go Kipyego did likewise for Cheruiyot. The final laps turned into a classic Kenya-Ethiopia face-off – but when Dibaba took off with 500 metres to go, Cheruiyot had no response. The reigning champion ran in a good 30 metres clear of her challengers to retain her title in decisive fashion.

Unfortunately for Irish fans, Britton was lapped by the leaders in their final lap, and the European cross country champion finished 15th.

There were mixed fortunes for the two other Irish competitors on the track today. Joanne Cuddihy had a nervous wait before confirmation that she had progressed as a fastest runner-up to the semi-finals of the women’s 400 metres. Ciaran O’Lionaird, though, had a bad night in his 1,500 metres heat – looking tense on the starting line, he quickly faded from contention and finished well down the field.

Here are some of the other stars of day 1 in the athletics at London 2012:

Jessica Ennis: A full house for a morning session of athletics? The home nation’s darling must be on the track. And she didn’t disappoint the expectant British public – notably, her sensational 100 metres hurdles time of 12.54 would have won gold in that event at the last Olympics. After one day and 4 events, Ennis leads by almost 200 points.

Evan Jager: The U.S. steeplechaser’s long blond hair and large white sweatband recalled Bjorn Borg, but his performance in his 3,000 metres steeplechase heat also caught the eye. Jager only took up élite steeplechasing earlier this year, yet he won the U.S. Olympic trials, set the national record and cruised to a comfortable second-place finish to qualify for Sunday’s final. Favourites and Kenyan pair Abel Mutai and defending champion Brimin Kipruto also qualified with ease. But spare a thought for one of his erstwhile rivals…

Birhan Getahun: The Ethiopian steeplechaser had a disastrous heat. Trailing in last, he fell at the last barrier and crashed painfully to the ground. After hobbling for a few steps he was eventually taken away in a wheelchair. It probably won’t help his recovery to know that his fall is currently being replayed on every sports news programme around the world.

Zamzam Mohamud Farah: The Somali flag-bearer at last week’s opening ceremony, she trailed in last in her 400 metres heat in 1:20:48. Her slow time can probably be explained by the fact that she is fasting for Ramadan. London 2012 is the first Olympics to coincide with Ramadan since Moscow in 1980. It takes courage and conviction to run a lonely last place as the world watches you. If you’re looking for an example of the Olympic spirit and inclusiveness, here’s your woman.

But all the headlines of day 1 will be about Jessica Ennis. Here’s her sensational run in the 100 metres hurdles:

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