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Friday August 18th, 2017 2:40AM

After 3 events in decathlon, Mayer takes the lead at worlds

By The Associated Press
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LONDON (AP) — The competition is on to fill the gap left by decathlete extraordinaire Ashton Eaton.

Kevin Mayer of France took the first step, grabbing the early lead Friday at the world championships.

Eaton won the last two world championship and Olympic gold medals, dominating the 10-event competition just like Usain Bolt did in the sprints. After his retirement, the race to become the "world's greatest athlete" is wide open.

The two-day competition set off under sunny skies at the Olympic Stadium with Mayer and Trey Hardee among the pre-championship favorites.

Mayer thumped his chest after heaving the shot put 15.72 meters, close to his lifetime outdoor best, to take the lead after the first three events.

Mayer won silver at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year and was a threat to Eaton up to the penultimate event. Increasingly, he looks like the man to beat this year.

Friday's first event, the 100 meters, gave Mayer a boost with his best time ever at 10.70 seconds. A strong long jump set him up for his winning throw in the shot put.

Mayer has 2,703 points, 25 more than Rico Freimuth of Germany. Two-time world champion Trey Hardee of the United States is in third place with 2,647 points.

The decathletes return in the evening session for the high jump and the 400 meters before competing in the five other events on Saturday.

In other early events, world-record holder Kendra Harrison led a strong U.S. contingent into the semifinals of the 100-meter hurdles.

Harrison had the top time in the opening heats in 12.60 seconds, .06 seconds ahead of defending champion Danielle Williams of Jamaica. Another heat winner was former Olympic and world champion Sally Pearson of Australia, who had the third-best time of 12.72.

Christina Manning, Dawn Harper Nelson and Nia Ali also went through to make it four Americans in the semifinals.

The American women swept the medals at the last year's Rio de Janeiro Games.

Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic of Croatia and defending champion Denia Caballero of Cuba both reached the final of the discus by throwing beyond the automatic qualifying mark.

With the target set at 62.50 meters, Perkovic had a massive second throw of 69.67 to go into Sunday's final. Caballero had a mark of 63.79.

Later Friday, there will also be finals in the women's 200, steeplechase and long jump, and the men's hammer throw.

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More AP track coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/London2017

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