By EDDIE PELLS, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Back in the day — or back before these Olympics, anyway — a woman running the 100-meter dash in less than 11 seconds was something to get excited about.
In the opening sprints of this year's Olympic track meet, breaking 11 was little more than another stroll down the straightaway, and maybe the sign of faster things to come in Saturday night's final.
Led by world champion Carmelita Jeter's time of 10.83 seconds, seven sprinters — including defending champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica — ran the first round of the 100 in 11 seconds or better Friday.
That was two more than did it over the entire meet in Beijing four years ago, and this time, there are still the semifinals and the gold-medal race to go. And that's to say nothing of what Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake might do when they rev it up Saturday afternoon in the men's 100 heats.
"This is way fast. I literally ran zero to 60, shut it down and then ran" 10.99, said Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast, who set a national record while finishing ahead of Jamaica's Kerron Stewart in Friday's last 100 heat. "I can't believe it. Whoa. Fast track."
Runner after runner came off the surface at Olympic Stadium, jam-packed for both sessions on Day 1, with similar testimony.
"This track is definitely fast. You can feel it," said American Sanya Richards-Ross, who advanced easily in the 400, nearly walking the last 20 meters to finish in 51.78.
"The track is really fast, probably faster than Beijing," said Hyleas Fountain, the American heptathlete.
And then there was heptathlete Jessica Ennis of Britain. She closed the night with a personal-best of 22.83 in the 200. That came about 12 hours after she opened the day with a 12.54-second effort in the 100-meter hurdles that broke the record for that event in the heptathlon and whipped the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
"If I'd run 12.8 or 12.7 or something, I would've been over the moon. But .54, I literally can't believe it," Ennis said.
All these fast times are coming on a track built with improved technology that has been generating buzz around the track world all season.
Called Mondotrack, the surface has shock-absorbing material built into the bottom instead of the top, meaning the upper layer provides better traction. That, in turn, lets runners wear flatter spikes that don't dig into the track as much, allowing for quicker turnover.
"Is this track better than Beijing? Unfortunately, I don't have a concrete answer," said Amy Millslagle, vice president for Olympic operations at Dow, which provides materials for the track. "You simply can't answer that because there's such a human element involved, and you can't prove one track is faster than another."
At least for one day, the runners let the numbers prove their point.
Fraser-Pryce got off to the second-worst start in her heat and had to work hard to win. No problem. She still finished in 11 seconds flat.
"I didn't get a chance to test it out," Fraser-Pryce said, acknowledging her struggle. "I'll let you know tomorrow."
A total of six gold medals will be given out Saturday, including in the heptathlon, where Ennis holds a 184-point lead over Austra Skujyte of Lithuania, and the men's 10,000 meters, where Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele will battle it out with Britain's Mo Farah and Galen Rupp of Portland, Ore.
The marquee race will be the women's 100, where Fraser-Pryce led a Jamaican sweep in Beijing and the Americans will try to flip the script this time — or at least get in on a little bit of the celebration.
The top candidate will be Jeter, who won her heat by nearly half a second.
"I just had to come out and execute, like my coach wanted me to do," Jeter said. "I still have two more rounds to go. Everybody's going to definitely be running their hearts out tomorrow."
Other contenders will include Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria, who had the second-fastest heat time, 10.93, and was one of eight women in the night's seven heats to record a personal best. Okagbare finished ahead of Tiana Madison, of Sanford, Fla., who clocked 10.97.
"Oh, yeah, sub-11 is always fun," Madison said.
Allyson Felix finished in 11.01, but that was good enough to win her heat, and Veronica Campbell-Brown, who has beaten Felix in the last two Olympic 200s, won her 100 heat in 10.94.
All these fast times left sprinters such as Melissa Breen of Australia on the outside looking in. In 2008, her time of 11.34 seconds would have easily moved her out of the first round and might have gotten her into the semifinals, as well. On this day, she was one-and-done, but impressed by what she saw.
"Those girls," Breen said, "are ridiculously fast."
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