By Raf Casert
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEIJING _ After a two-year absence, Ashton Eaton needed only 10.23 seconds to establish himself again as the favourite to win the decathlon at the world championships.
That’s how long it took the American to run the 100 metres in a championship decathlon record on Friday at the start of the two-day competition.
Eaton immediately followed that up by winning the long jump with a leap of 7.88 metres. A ninth-place finish in the shot put left him in a strong position ahead of the evening’s final two events _ the high jump and the 400.
Instead of a rusty returnee to competition, the Olympic champion immediately took control. He leads with 2,830 points, 83 more than Canadian Damian Warner of London, Ont.
Although Eaton is back on the track, American teammate Trey Hardee is as good as out after injuring his back in the long jump and slumping to last place.
Instead of Hardee, a two-time world champion, Warner is likely to be Eaton’s toughest rival. Rico Freimuth, in third place after the morning events with 2,730 points, is another contender.
Last season, Eaton took a break from the most bruising and draining competition in the sport and centred on experimenting with the 400 hurdles _ which is not even a decathlon discipline. He did not complete a decathlon this year before coming to Beijing.
For the home fans, all the excitement came early as China finally earned its first gold medal with Liu Hong leading a 1-2 finish ahead of teammate Lu Xiuzhi in the 20-kilometre walk.
Despite the early-morning start, tens of thousands of home fans packed the stands in the Bird’s Nest to welcome the walkers and cheer their first victory as the championships headed into the final weekend.
In a tight finish after they walked together almost the whole race, Liu barely edged Lu, with both finishing in 1 hour, 27 minutes, 45 seconds. The pair then fell into each other’s arms and soaked up the adoration of the crowd with the red Chinese flag hanging over their shoulders.
Lyudmyla Olyanovska of Ukraine took bronze, 28 seconds behind.
Canada’s Rachel Seaman, of Peterborough, Ont., finished 13th in 1:31.39.
China has come close before, but three silvers have left the crowds disappointed. There never was any doubt they would go one better in the walk.
Liu, the world-record holder, came in as the favourite, with Lu also a contender. Combined with the absence of the usually strong Russians, who did not bring a team in the wake of a doping scandal, the Chinese were the ones to beat.
As host nation of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese did not win a gold medal at the Bird’s Nest.
There were four more events on Friday before the competition wraps up on Saturday.
In other finals later Friday, Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands will be looking to break the stranglehold of Jamaica on the sprints in the women’s 200. Usain Bolt won both the men’s 100 and 200 and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took the women’s 100. Schippers took silver in the 100 and Fraser-Pryce is not running the longer distance this year.
Her task was made easier when Allyson Felix skipped her favourite event to concentrate on the 400 instead, where she won a ninth world championship gold medal on Thursday.
After rebounding following a poor start to the championships, the Americans are strong favourites to get gold in the 100-meter hurdles, with four qualifiers in the final.
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