By Gene Cherry
BEIJING (Reuters) - Home favorite Guowei Zhang sailed into the high jump final at the world athletics championship on Friday with a confident clearance of 2.31 meters, while American Ashton Eaton predictably took charge of the decathlon.
Zhang, the world number two, cleared four jumps at the first attempt and then the automatic qualifying height for Sunday's final to finish joint-top with Canadian Derek Drouin on the seventh morning of action in China.
The home crowd were already in a buoyant mood after Liu Hong won the women's 20 kilometer walk to pick up China's first gold of the meet before Zhang put in a confident display.
His efforts were matched by Drouin, the Olympic bronze medalist with a personal best of 2.40m, the Canadian pleased to have had a quick workout.
"Today my goal was to clear all heights with the first attempt, what I managed, and saved energy for the final," he told reporters.
"I came to Beijing with the main goal -- a new PB (personal best). I feel super fit and confident. If my new PB would not be enough for a medal that would be devastating."
Zhang and Drouin were joined in the final by defending champion Bogdan Bondarenko from Ukraine, who also cleared the 2.31m height at the first time of asking after needing two attempts at 2.29m.
Qatari world indoor champion Mutaz Essa Barshim also sailed through at 2.31m, while Brandon Starc became the first Australian to qualify for the final since 1997 after clearing the same height.
"Now I need some food and sleep. The track is a little fast, so I had to do little adjustments," the tired Qatari said.
"The final in the evening will be even better because I will be able to get more sleep before."
In the decathlon, Olympic champion and world record holder Eaton quickly moved out in front after three events.
The American, the defending world champion, was quickest in the opening 100m with a time of 10.23 seconds and followed up with the best mark in the long jump of 7.88m.
The 27-year-old then produced a throw of 14.52m in the shot put, where Germany's Rico Freimuth finished top with an effort of 15.50m to sit third overall on 2730 points. Eaton has 2830 points.
Canadian Damian Warner is second, some 82 points back of the heavy favorite after a strong opening morning.
The bronze medalist two years ago was second overall in the sprint and offered a personal best of 14.33m in the shot for a 2747 total.
American Trey Hardee, world champion in 2009 and 2011, was forced to pull out of the shot, ending his championships. The 31-year-old appeared hampered by injury when throwing.
(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien)