London • Jessica Ennis' wakeup call came at 5:45 a.m. It wasn't until 16 hours later that she trudged off the track at Olympic Stadium, her greatest day behind her and her most significant just ahead.
"I need sleep," she said, almost pleadingly.
Through four events of the heptathlon, the British hero had earned it. She set a world record in the 100-meter hurdles in a heptathlon, set a personal best in the 200 meters and did well enough on the high jump and shot put to emerge on top at the midway point of the seven-event, two-day competition.
"I couldn't have ever imagined performing like this," the 26-year-old world No. 1 said. "I've definitely exceeded my expectations today."
And she did it all while lugging the hopes of a nation around, as well.
In Britain, Ennis the daughter of an Englishwoman and a former Jamaican sprinter has become the face of the London Games. Her determined, scrunched face is on buses and billboards seemingly everything but money. Her likeness, painted on a field next to London's Heathrow Airport, greeted every arriving athlete and spectator with the message "Welcome to our turf."
She's endorsed by Olay and Adidas. Skin and shoes.
Perhaps more impressively, she has ignited global interest in a sport often overlooked. It doesn't hurt, of course, that she is attractive. This month she appears on the British cover of Cosmopolitan magazine and in a saucy spread in GQ.
On the first day of track and field at the London Games, the other primary events were won by defending champions: Poland's Tomasz Majewski in shot put and Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba in the women's 10,000-meter race.
While those were far from ho-hum, they were merely sideshows for the partisan crowd eager to see Ennis get her first shot in the Olympics (she missed the 2008 Games with stress fractures in her foot).
"I think we've got a loud crowd," fellow British heptathlete Katrina Johnson-Thompson said, "but as soon as Jess steps up, it's louder."
As Great Britain, or "Team GB," has transitioned from woefully low in the medal count to third behind China and the United States (a dominant track cycling program helps, as it did on Friday), the British see Ennis as the force that will push into the second week of these Games.
A headline in The Independent on Friday read, "Great Britain's great hope aiming for seven heaven."
She certainly was atmospheric on Friday. The only blemish was falling short of her personal best on the high jump, but her 1.86-meter jump was more than adequate.
In the 200 meters, Ennis came from behind to end the race in 22.83 seconds, a dead heat with Dafne Schippers, from the Netherlands.
With three events remaining in the heptathlon, it would require only an average day for Ennis to become the first British athlete to win the grueling event since Denise Lewis in 2000. It may come down to the 800 meters, which closes the show on Sunday in primetime.
First, she'll have to hold serve in the long jump and javelin to keep competitors such as American Hyleas Fountain and defending world champion Tatyana Chernova, from Russia, behind her.
Ennis will focus on "just doing what I know I'm capable of," she said. "Today's been great, but still a lot to work on for tomorrow."
Jolly good start
• British heptathlete Jessica Ennis exceeded her sky-high expectations on the first day of track and field competition.
• Ennis did not compete at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing due to a stress fracture in her foot.
• Perhaps Britain's most recognizable Olympian, she is often referred to in local newspapers as the nation's "great hope" at these Games.