British record high jump helps Johnson-Thompson set heptathlon pace

The 23-year-old’s battle for gold with fellow Brit Jessica Ennis-Hill could well go down to the wire.

Rio Olympics Athletics

Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson got their bids for Olympic heptathlon gold off to flying starts in Rio on Friday.

Johnson-Thompson led the field on 2,264 points after two events thanks to a British record clearance – and equal world heptathlon best – of 1.98 metres in the high jump.

It was some statement of intent from an athlete who was left distraught at last year's World Championships in Beijing when three fouls in the long jump dashed her medal hopes.

And her team-mate, the defending champion, Ennis-Hill is third, 22 points further back, after clocking 12.84 seconds in the 100m hurdles and then clearing 1.89m. She is only seven points down on her score at the same stage during London 2012.

The 30-year-old produced her third-fastest time since those London Games – and her fastest in a heptathlon since then – before pulling out her best high jump since before the last Olympics.

Johnson-Thompson, the heir to her compatriot's multi-eventing throne, had clocked 13.48secs over the hurdles, 0.11 down on her best this year, but a solid enough time given the rainy conditions at the start of the morning.

Their battle is already shaping up to be one of the showdowns of the Games, provided it goes all the way to the 800m – the last of the seven events.

The Britons were hit by a wall of noise on their first morning of London 2012, a teenage Johnson-Thompson saying 'wow' at the roar which greeted her introduction.

There was no chance of that at a near empty Olympic Stadium for the start of competition here, even if the British fans were the ones making the most noise. There looked to be barely a couple of thousand spectators in the 60,000-capacity venue when the action got under way.

Belgium's Nafissatou Thiam, who also cleared 1.98m, is second, 10 points ahead of Ennis-Hill, who is out to become the first British woman to retain an Olympic title in athletics, two years after the birth of her son Reggie.

Canada's world number one Brianne Theisen-Eaton lies fifth on 2,151, with two more events, the shot put – Johnson-Thompson's weakest – and 200m to come on day one.

Rio Olympics Athletics