When London staged the Olympic Games five years ago, Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam was digesting finishing 14th in the heptathlon at the World U20 Championships a few weeks earlier in Barcelona.
She was 17, her first year as a junior and she might not have raised too many eyebrows. At the same championships in Barcelona, Great Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson had won the long jump as a precursor to her Olympic debut the following month.
This weekend, fortunes are reversed as less than a fortnight before she turns 23, Thiam will look to become one of the big names of world athletics for the second summer in a row after her brilliant performance to win Olympic heptathlon gold in Rio de Janeiro last summer.
She defeated Britain’s defending champion Jessica Ennis-Hill in the process and since then, Thiam has taken her performance to a new level to show how her career remains on an upward spiral.
Having won in Rio de Janeiro with a Belgian record of 6810 points, Thiam then triumphed in Gotzis in May with 7013. She became the first woman since Carolina Kluft almost a decade ago to break the 7000-point barrier to move to third on the world all-time lists and now she is ready to cement her reputation even more.
The women behind her in Gotzis - and on the world lists - could provide her stiffest challenge: Germany’s Carolin Schafer (6836), Latvia’s Laura Ikauniece-Admidina (6815) and Johnson-Thompson, the 2015 European Indoor pentathlon champion, who improved her lifetime best to 6691.
But breaking 7000 points is a big barrier to go through, not that Thiam is letting her success get to her. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, she said: “I really appreciate my privacy. My private life, my family, my boyfriend. People want to know, and I understand that, but it’s something I really want to keep for me.”
The next step is sometimes the hardest, but this mindset shows how Thiam is taking it in her stride. She could be very hard to beat again.
At the last Olympics, Kevin Mayer finished second in the decathlon to Ashton Eaton but with the American now retired, Mayer looks poised to take over the mantle from the world record-holder.
Mayer hasn’t contested a decathlon this season but he did win the European indoor title in Belgrade with a European heptathlon record of 6479 and has set lifetime bests in the 110m hurdles, discus and javelin ahead of London.
Schippers and Hejnova eye top spot once more
Dafne Schippers and Zuzana Hejnova had the honour of being Europe’s two female track gold medallists in Beijing at the last World Championships in 2015 and they find themselves very much in contention again heading into London.
Though Dutch sprinter Schippers is sixth on the world 200m lists with 22.10 – American Tori Bowie is the fastest with 21.77m from the Eugene Diamond League in May – her time is the quickest in recent weeks among her rivals.
She will double up again and will face Jamaica’s Olympic champion Elaine Thompson in the 100m but Schippers is such a powerhouse over the 200m, with her speed off the bend a glorious accompaniment to a good start.
On times alone, Hejnova - who is eighth on the 400m hurdles list - might not seem a threat but she is chasing a hat-trick of world title and the Czech can never be discounted, as she showed in 2015 when she retained her title having missed 2014 with injury. Hejnova has competed sparingly this season but she looked impressive in the Rabat Diamond League two weeks ago, defeating a good field in a season’s best of 54.22.
On the men’s side, Sergey Shubenkov has come roaring back into contention ahead of his title defence in the 110m hurdles after running 13.01 - the second fastest time of his career last month - while reigning world high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene begins as one of the outright favourites in London, having cleared 2.00m or higher some 13 times in 2017.