(Reuters) – Nafissatou Thiam might have been a surprise gold medalist in the heptathlon at last year’s Olympic Games, but a record-breaking performance two months ago suggests Rio was no fluke and she’ll be the one to watch in the World Athletics Championship this weekend.
In Rio de Janeiro, the 22-year-old ended the long dominance of Jessica Ennis-Hill in a stunning upset that seemed to leave the Belgian more surprised than the spectators.
But any doubts about the validity of her achievement were dispelled in May when she racked up a massive 7013 points at a meeting in Gotzis in Austria to go third on the all-time list for the event.
It means Thiam will go into the World Championships in London, which start on Friday, as favorite for top podium spot in the seven-discipline event.
The grueling schedule begins early on Saturday with the 100 meter hurdles and concludes on Sunday evening with the 800m race.
“Nafi is really serene and knows what she must do,” Belgian athletics official Stephanie Noel said on Tuesday.
“She has great powers of concentration and knows she needs to be at her best in all seven disciplines. But we all know that to get gold is always a difficult task,” Noel told the Belga news agency.
Thiam has also entered the women’s high jump, as she did in Rio only to withdraw later. Her jump of 1.98m in Gotzis was the third best of the year.
She notched a total of four personal bests at the Austrian meeting in the 200m, 800m, 100m hurdles and javelin, after which she said: “It was an amazing competition, it’s really unbelievable. I came to see where my form is at, and I was a little bit scared as I felt a little elbow problem in the javelin, but I was able to relax thereafter.”
She recently revealed that she took gold in the Olympics despite torn ligaments in her elbow that left her in obvious distress after her javelin throws.
Thiam, who is studying geography at university, could end Belgium’s lengthy wait for a gold at the World Championships, held every two years since starting in Helsinki in 1983.
The country’s first silver came in Beijing two years ago when Philip Milanov finished second in the men’s discus to add to a scant tally of four bronze medals from 1987 to 2011.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Hugh Lawson