Tokyo, Japan: Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam successfully defended her Olympic heptathlon title on Thursday, a task made easier by the withdrawal of British world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
Thiam amassed 6,791 points in the seven-discipline, two-day event made even more gruelling because of hot, humid conditions at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium.
Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands claimed silver with 6,689pts, with teammate Emma Oosterwegel taking bronze (6,590).
“It feels so good. I can’t believe it,” said Thiam. “I am so emotional I can’t describe it.”
The 26-year-old Belgian Thiam registered 13.54 seconds in the opening 100m hurdles, 1.92m in the high jump, 14.82m in the shot put and 24.90sec on the first day of action.
That was followed up by 6.60m in the long jump, 54.68m in the javelin and 2:15.98 in the final, strength-sapping 800m.
“The first day was difficult for me,” said Thiam. “So on day two I had to really focus. I knew I had to do something really good in the long jump and javelin.
“My coach was so positive and told me he believed in me today. I am really happy I was able to go through that and put my performances together.”
Injuries and the Covid-19 pandemic meant it was the first time Thiam and Johnson-Thompson had contested a full heptathlon since their clash at the Doha world championships in 2019.
But the Briton, who suffered a ruptured achilles earlier this year but returned to competition at the end of June, pulled up with a calf injury in the 200m.
Thiam, who this year won the European indoor title in March with a national record of 4,904 points, was instead pushed all the way by overnight leader Vetter.
– Vetter settles for silver –
The Dutch athlete lost her lead after managing 51.20m in the javelin, more than 3m off Thiam’s best.
It left the 28-year-old, a former European champion who finished 10th at the Rio Games, needing to beat Thiam by 4.5 seconds in the 800m.
Given that her personal best was 2.5sec slower than Thiam, it was going to be a challenge.
And unfortunately for Vetter, it proved too much as Thiam kept up a steady pace for the two-lap finale.
Oosterwegel kicked with Belgian Noor Videts at the bell of what proved to be a rapid 62-second lap, but Thiam kept them well in view, eventually finishing almost three seconds ahead of Vetter.
“In the 800m I was hoping to do a bit better but I think it was a really positive race and in the end I got the medal. I am so happy,” Thiam said.
As for Johnson-Thompson, she admitted it would take a lot for her to bounce back from yet another setback.
“I started the year in a wheelchair and I was not willing to end my Olympic campaign in the same way,” she tweeted in reference to the fact she spurned help to instead heave herself up after her 200m injury and slowly jog unaided through to the finish line.
“I’ve lost heart knowing that the work my team and I have done for the last eight months was for this outcome and I hate that my story has played out in more heartbreak.
“I’ve been knocked so many times and got back up, but it will take a lot of time for me to process this reality.”