Olympic champion Thiam’s gamble turns to gold in pentathlon

 Olympic champion Thiam’s gamble turns to gold in pentathlon
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Belgium's Nafissatou Thiam had a brilliant performance to win pentathlon gold with a personal best 4870 points at the Belgrade 2017 European Athletics Indoor Championships on Friday 3 March.

Olympic heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam, who made a late decision to take part in these Championships following restricted winter preparations, was rewarded with a pentathlon personal best of 4870 points as she added gold to the European indoor silver she had won two years ago in Prague.

If this is what the sublimely talented 22-year-old Belgian can do on insufficient training, her rivals will not want to consider her capabilities once she is in full working order…

“I had a lot of doubts before coming here,” Thiam said. “Because after Rio people were expecting a lot from me and I only wanted to come here if I was well prepared.

“I did my thing and in the first four events everything went great. I feel a little bad about the 800 metres, but I won and that’s what matters. I train to compete at championships and of course it is great to deliver a win.”

After winning the first three events, setting personal bests in the 60m hurdles and high jump - where she cleared a Championship best of 1.96m - Thiam looked briefly on course for the Championship record of 5000 points set by Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson in 2015.  Or perhaps even Nataliya Dobrynska’s 2012 world record of 5013.

She faltered to third place in the long jump, however, and was clearly struggling as she came home last in her concluding 800m race. But there was a smile of satisfaction as she had still done more than enough to be assured of a second senior international gold.

Silver went to Austria’s 23-year-old European bronze medallist Ivona Dadic, who set personal bests in the first three events and won the concluding long jump and 800m to secure a national record of 4767.

Hungary’s Gyorgi Zsivoczky-Farkas took bronze with a personal best of 4723, with compatriot Xenia Krizsan fourth with 4631, also a personal best.  

If there had been any uncertainty in Thiam’s mind about competing here it was dispersed by her opening event. A 60m hurdles time of 8.23 – which took 0.14 off the indoor personal best she set in Ghent last month - established her in the lead with 1077 points.

A broad grin and a clenched fist indicated that the Olympic champion was already enjoying her first big international test of the season.

Next up for her was the event at which she had excelled in Rio, where she set a world heptathlon high jump best of 1.98m.

Asked on the eve of the Championships whether the landmark height of 2.00m might be within her reach here, Thiam politely deflated that expectation, pointing out that she had been limited in her winter training and adding: “I think it is too soon in my preparations.”

After winning the competition by equalling her season’s best of 1.90 she made an easy first time clearance at 1.93. And as the rest of the field, already back in their tracksuits and carrying their bags, stood and chatted, the Olympic champion pushed on to greater heights. With the whole arena focused on her effort, she cleared 1.96m at her second attempt, acknowledging the achievement with raised arms.

It was a Championship record and an indoor personal best by two centimetres, and it preceded three unsuccessful attempts at 1.99m, which would have equalled the world pentathlon high jump best set by her Belgian compatriot Tia Hellebaut at the 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia.

The efforts got successively better, the last was so close that she put her hands over her face as she knelt on the landing mat. But it was enough to extend her lead to 166 points over her nearest challenger, Dadic, Austria’s 23-year-old European bronze medallist Ivona Dadic, who improved her indoor personal best of 1.78m three times, finishing with 1.87m.

Thiam then won the shot put with a second round effort of 15.29m, just six centimetres short of her personal best.

Gold was almost assured – but the Belgian’s winning habit evaded her in the long jump where, despite a season’s best of 6.37m, she could only take third place behind Dadic, who won with another personal best of 6.41m, and Hungary’s Gyorgi Zsivoczky-Farkas, who reached 6.38m - also a personal best.

Thiam nevertheless carried a total of 4106 points – and a lead of 244 - into a concluding 800m in which she required merely to get round in decent order to secure her first indoor gold, clocking 2:24.44. The world record would have required a time of 2:14.02 and will have to wait for another occasion…