Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam will celebrate her 24th birthday this coming Sunday and what better present can she have than her European gold medal.
It arrived after arguably the gutsiest performance of her career amid the fanfare and glory of the sensational drama of the Berlin 2018 heptathlon.
In terms of points, her victory in the heptathlon was not achieved with a personal best, that remains 7013 from Gotzis last year. In terms of strength, determination and self belief, she has never been better.
What Thiam achieved in the famous Olympic Stadium was a personal triumph in knowing that remains when things are not going her way, she will not panic, she will not fret. She will just put her mind in the right place and be confident that everything will come together.
The story began on the second morning with the long jump waiting.
Thiam, already the reigning Olympic and world champion, n athlete who has tasted only gold over the previous two summers, was in second position with 3930, 87 points behind Great Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
“I just started the day thinking it is not going to be easy, but you can do it,” said Thiam as she chatted with European Athletics in the aftermath of her glory.
“You have to give your all, so whatever happens you can walk off the stage and have no regrets.”
By the evening of Friday night, the fourth day of the Championships, she certainly had no regrets.
Thiam was the champion with a world-leading score of 6816, and victory over Johnson-Thompson by 57 points.
“In the heptathlon, the physical is very important, but it is a very long event over the two days and there is the occasion to miss your chance and if it goes good, or if it goes bad, you have to forget about it and focus on the next one and never give up,” she reflected.
“In this kind of competition when it is tight like that, when everything is not going how you want it to be, you manage to pull yourself through, you prove to yourself that whatever happens, you are able to give your best and even if your first one is not good, then the second one can be amazing.”
Here she is talking about the moment which changed everything, the javelin, the penultimate discipline.
Thiam had finished second in the long jump with 6.60m for 1040 points as Johnson-Thompson won with 6.68m for 1066 to extend her advantage but the Belgian knew she had a big advantage over her rival in what was to follow.
Johnson-Thompson opened with a personal best of 42.16m as Thiam started well with 46.36m to provisionally take pole position.
But for a woman with a personal best of 59.32m from Gotzis 2017 – and aware that the Briton was the better 800m runner – she knew she had to do more. Now the mind really went to work.
In the second round that she later called “amazing” she reached 53.55m to show how she can deliver and then extended her distance to 57.91m, a championship best performance for this individual discipline.
In one instant, it was all over as Thiam now led by a virtually uncatchable 192 points.
“Competition after competition, I learn a lot about myself,” commented Thiam. “At the Olympics, it was maybe about confidence; in the worlds, it was about the pressure in London because I had a hard time. And here, with the performance not coming together, it was a lot of feeling in the head.
“I managed to comeback with a strong performance in the second day and the javelin throw put me in a good position for gold. I had 100 points difference before the last throw and I knew it was going to be tight. I knew I was going to have give a very big throw and I knew I was able to do it after Gotzis.”
Thiam might have achieved only one personal best in Berlin, with 15.35m in the shot put on the first day, but her belief in her own abilities was worth its own weight in gold.