European Athletics is pleased to present a three-day series of the most memorable performances of each day from the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Gothenburg. Our Day One focus is on Antoinette Nana Djimou of France.
She had flowers in her right hand, the bouquet being held alongside the tricolour behind her. But it was the smile which told the story of her brilliant performance as France’s Antoinette Nana Djimou Ida successfully defended her European Athletics Indoor pentathlon title.
What a way for the major athletics event of the winter to start at the Scandinavium Arena in Göteborg.
It had been almost seven years since the Swedish city had staged the outdoor European Athletics Championships, an event where the nation hailed their own sweetheart as Carolina Kluft won the heptathlon.
Since then, she had put her name alongside Kluft after winning the seven-event competition at the European Athletics Championships in Helsinki in 2012, and now over five disciplines in one day, she proved her star quality once more.
Day one of these Championships was one of the biggest tests of her career. The old adage is right: it is harder to defend a title?
When the athletes settled into their blocks for the opening event of the pentathlon, the 60m hurdles, Nana Djimou was faced with laying down a marker. And she did that in style, with a brilliant run from lane three to win in 8.12.
The 1102 points gave her the lead by 34 in points but the advantage psychologically over the rest. Now it was a game of catch-up, with the champion in the box seat after event one.
Nana Djimou’s all-round ability was tested because by the end of the second event, the high jump, she had slipped down the rankings after clearing only 1.75m as Belarusian Yana Maksimava won with 1.90m to take the overall lead with 2095.
All that changed again in the shot put as Nana Djimou finished second with 15.35m as Germany’s Julia Machtag won with 15.97m which saw the French star narrow the gap at the top by moving into second with 2902 from Maksimava, who led with 2932 after she was third with 14.65m.
It was now all about character with two events left to go, as the women sat waiting their turn in the long jump.
With her three tries, Nana Djimou went from 6.10m and 6.25m to 6.32m to win, banking 949 points and moving into the lead with 3851 from Maksimava with 3763 and Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam with 3744.
Would an 88-point lead be enough? In the final event, the 800m race, she began well but started slipping back down the field as Maksimava began to increase her speed.
The Belarusian did all she could, being first home in 2:14.84 for 895 points, almost six seconds in front of Nana Djimou, whose performance equated to 815 points, and it was enough. Just enough.
She kept hold of gold by eight small points with 4666 from Maksimava with 4658 and Hanna Melnychenko with 4604.
The Ukrainian would progress to win the heptathlon at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in the summer, but this day was all about the dogged persistence of Nana Djimou, a woman deserving of the champion tag.