Stefanidi and Thiam are London golden girls with Berlin now beckoning

Nafi Thiam at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
European Athletics

Nafi Thiam at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

Greece’s Ekaterini Stefanidi and Belgium’s Nafi Thiam were the champions in Rio, they are now the champions in London and already the excitement is building for their next major target: the 2018 European Athletics Championships in Berlin.

The pair might have been on other sides of the track as their moment of glory was secured but their smiles were so wide they could have been joined together as they celebrated on Sunday on another amazing night for European athletes at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.

Twelve months on from their 2016 Olympic Games success, Stefanidi and Thiam triumphed again on arguably an even tougher stage, because this time they were the champions who were there to beaten but once more they showed what incredible champions they are.

Pole vaulter Stefanidi did not just win gold again either, she topped the evening off by breaking her national record of 4.90m in sensational style, clearing 4.91m to move one place to equal-fourth on the world all-time list.

As she was dancing and celebrating, with the Greek flags were flying and bouzouki music blasting out over the stadium’s impressive speaker system, Thiam was making her own history even though she finished last in the final heat of the 800m in the women’s heptathlon.

Her place did not matter though.

Her time of 2:21.42 and the 804 points she got in the last of the seven disciplines secured her the title as she became the first Belgian to win a gold medal in the 34-year history of the world championships.

Stefanidi now has all three major outdoors titles, having also been crowned European champion in Amsterdam last summer, a gold she will look to defend in Berlin next August by which time breaking five metres could be a possibility.

Ekaterini Stefanidi flying high at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Ekaterini Stefanidi flying high at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

On Sunday night she tried for 5.02m, missing out of her three attempts, but she knew she had won with something extra still to give because normally she does not even try for greater heights once victory is in the bank.

Stefanidi, 27, had done that when she went over at 4.82m, with her closest rivals not being able to match it.
“Once I win, I usually do not jump higher,” said Stefanidi. “I wanted the championship record (Yelena Isinbayeva’s 5.01m has stood since 2005). It was a big thing to improve my national record and to break two records was just too much for me. I felt really good. I normally get a little nervous.”

She now has such dominance in the event, such an aura, as she showed by entering the competition last at 4.65m and having only one failure, at 4.89m, on her way to a 2017 world-leading clearance.

By the way she is progressing, something even greater awaits at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships because all three of her major golds have been won with increasing heights: Amsterdam 4.81m, a championship record, Rio 4.85m and now this brilliant 4.91m.

Ekaterini Stefanidi at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Ekaterini Stefanidi at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

Thiam, who is not 23 until later this month, was at the helm of one of the great European success stories at these championships as she won with 6784 points with European athletes taking 10 of the next 11 places.

She might have been the surprise heptathlon gold medallist in Rio when she beat Great Britain’s now-retired defending champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, but not any more.

After winning the European indoor pentathlon title in March, she is an athlete who really delivers at the right time, following her 7000-plus success in Gotzis in May with another great performance.

Come Berlin, what a competition it could be because Thiam was pushed all the way by Germany’s Carolin Schafer, who was in tears at the end as she won silver with 6696 while the Netherlands’ Anouk Vetter broke down as well after breaking the Dutch record as she won bronze with 6636.

With a lead of 172 points going into the final event, Thiam was never going to be caught as long overall unless she failed to finish.

“I am super happy. The 800m isn’t my favourite but everybody has to do it. I wasn’t here for the Olympics five years ago but this is really incredible,” she reflected.

Nafi Thiam at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Nafi Thiam at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

Indeed she was not, but her rise has been amazing and it seems she has only just started.

For some athletes of her age, their senior careers have not even begun properly but Thiam’s is now decorated with two golds.

It is only day three of the championships but her success puts Belgium high in the medal table and, like Greece with Stefanidi, they have an athlete who does not know how to lose.

Next stop? It seems to be Berlin 2018.

  • The Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships will be part of the first multi-sport European Championships along with co-hosts Glasgow.
  • It will be a must-watch, must-attend experience that elevates the status of European Champions, uniting existing European Championships to celebrate the highest honour in European sport and celebrating the defining moments that create Champions.
  • It is the continent’s ultimate multisport event, an 11-day celebration of European sport staged every 4 years.
  • Seven of Europe’s leading sports (athletics, aquatics, rowing, golf, cycling, gymnastics, triathlon) will be brought together for the first edition.
  • The European Athletics Championships in Berlin will be staged 7-12 August. The six other sports will be staged in Glasgow through 2-12 August.
  • 4,500 athletes and 52 nations will compete across the seven sports.
  • Potential TV audience of over 1 billion with millions more across multiple digital platforms.
  • Over half a million spectators expected.