Belgium’s Thiam dominates field events to win her second Olympic heptathlon title
by Matt Wisner
Belgium’s Nafi Thiam won the heptathlon in Tokyo with 6,791 points. This is Thiam’s second Olympic title; the 26-year-old also won gold in Rio in 2016.
Thiam secured her victory by scoring lots of points in the field events. The heptathlon has four field events and three track events, and if the event breakdown instead favored the track rather than the field, Thiam may not have won.
Thiam won three of four field events: the high jump, the long jump, and the javelin. She was also fourth in the shot put.
The first event of the heptathlon is the 100-meter hurdles. Thiam placed 15th. She was 18th in the 200 meters and 13th in the 800 meters.
In the end, Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands finished in second place with 6,689 points, and Emma Oosterwegel, also of the Netherlands, finished in third with 6,590 points.
Vetter led after the first day. In the first four events, she didn’t finish outside of the top six. Her strongest performance was the 200, which she won.
Thiam had to come from behind to win. And she definitely performed much stronger on the second day. Her back-to-back event victories in the long jump and javelin basically sealed the deal–so long as she could come within four-and-a-half seconds of Vetter in the 800.
Thiam ultimately beat Vetter in the 800, 2:15.98 to 2:18.72.
It was a narrow win. Overall, the two women were separated by 98 points–what could be a few seconds in a long running event, one bad clearance of a hurdle, or an accidental foul on a throw.
The U.S. sent three women to Tokyo, and they all finished in the top 10: Kendall Williams was fifth with 6,508 points, Annie Kunz came sixth with 6,420 points, and Erica Bougard finished ninth with 6,379 points. None of the three women performed at a season’s best level.
Kunz, the U.S. Olympic Trials champion, would have earned a silver medal if she had performed at the level aligned with her season’s best. She scored 6,703 points at the Trials.
Kunz placed third in the shot put at the end of the first day to move into fourth place heading into day two. She ultimately fell in the ranks over the final two events: the javelin and 800.
Kunz is 28 years old and unsponsored. She’ll have another shot at gold in three years.