Katarina Johnson-Thompson put together her best ever first day score of 4138 points to amass a narrow lead over Nafissatou Thiam from Belgium who hasn’t been beaten in a combined events competition in over three years.
Johnson-Thompson has been steadfastly consistent in the 13.3-13.4 range in the 100m hurdles since her breakout year in 2012 when she competed at the 2012 Olympics in London as a junior but the Brit took her two-year-old lifetime best to smithereens, improving from 13.29 down to 13.09 to bank 1111 points - a performance which very much set the tone for the rest of her day.
'I surprised myself in the hurdles,' said the overnight leader. 'In my score calculator I have never put 13.0 in it. I was very happy with that - and surprised.'
Thiam opened the defence of her world title with a season’s best of 13.36 in the 100m hurdles and the two leading aspirants for the heptathlon title matched each other in the high jump at 1.95m to equal the championship best, adding 1171 points to their respective tallies.
The first day followed the pattern of recent championships with Thiam - who had some strapping on her throwing elbow - assuming the lead in the shot put after setting the best mark of 15.21m across the two pools but Johnson-Thompson was rightly elated with her third round throw of 13.86m which embellished her lifetime best by 71 centimetres.
This kept the gap down to 51 points after three events and Johnson-Thompson immediately countered it with a 23.08 clocking in the 200m - the fastest time of the day - to Thiam’s 24.60.
Johnson-Thompson’s first day score of 4138 was her best by nearly 100 points but Thiam was still ahead of her schedule from the 2017 World Championships with 4042 points after four events with some very strong events to follow on the second day.
Standings after day one in the heptathlon:— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) October 2, 2019
This is Johnson-Thompson's best ever first day score by 79 points!#WorldAthleticsChamps pic.twitter.com/ZUqYwoTxOx
But while Thiam has lifetime bests nearing seven metres in the long jump and 60 metres in the javelin, the current leader is quietly confident about her prospects of retaining her position on the top rung of the leaderboard. “Gold? Why not,” said Johnson-Thompson. “I am in shape and in a position to do it but you never know what can happen on day two.”
Johnson-Thompson’s training partner Kevin Mayer from France finished the first day of the decathlon in third place with 4483 points - just behind the Canadian duo of Damian Warner (4513 points) and Pierce LePage (4486 points), the latter producing the best marks of the day in both the long jump with 7.79m and 400m with 47.35.
Mayer opened his campaign with a 10.50 PB in the 100m but the Frenchman was especially ecstatic with his shot put. It might not have been a lifetime best but that mark of 16.82m was his best ever mark in a decathlon and 82 centimetres better than his best throw in Talence where he broke the world record with 9126 points last September.
Mayer’s lead was reduced after a 1.99m high jump before his lead was eclipsed altogether by the pursuing Canadians with 48.99 in the 400m. 'My second day is better so I can't wait,' said Mayer. 'My rivals are the ones feeling the pressure. I want the world title but I can't take it for granted.'
Steven Mills for European Athletics