Making the transition from junior to senior athlete in any event is never simple and for heptathletes, the complexity of coming of age is multiplied by seven.
However, 20-year-old Nadine Visser, who finished eighth at the World Championships last month, has made it all look pretty easy.
The Dutch athlete completed three heptathlons in 2015, closing her season at last weekend’s Decastar meeting in Talence, France. Though her total there of 6257 points was her lowest haul of her campaign, she was still more than content with her performance.
“Yes! Yes I really am (happy),” she said, after finishing the traditional lap of the track with all the other finishers.
“I did not know what to expect before the heptathlon (in Talence) because it’s so late in the season, my last competition. I was beginning to feel tired.”
There were plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
The youngest in the field, Visser enjoyed a late-season flurry to finish third in the Bordeaux suburb and while more experienced athletes wilted in the late summer sun, Visser remained near the top throughout the two days.
Competing in combined-event competition requires mental resolve, the maturity to move on from a poor showing and stay focused on the next event.
Time of her life in Talence
On day one in Talence, she opened with a meeting record of 12.88 in the 100m hurdles, the third time she has run faster than 13 seconds this year, and recorded a shot put PB of 13.24m.
Visser was more sluggish on day two, but showed the maturity and stamina to round off her weekend with another personal best of 2:13.08 in the 800m.
“My first day here was very good. I was pleased with that,” she said.
“Second day was like the same as in Beijing: long jump and javelin were really not good, so I was disappointed. But then I was very happy that I could finish with a PB in the 800m. I learned from that. So yeah, it was a good heptathlon.”
For Visser, who won bronze in both the heptathlon and the 100m hurdles at the 2014 World Junior Championships, Beijing marked a first senior global championships.
She wasn’t overawed though. “I’d done the European Champs and the European Indoors so Beijing was not a lot different, just even bigger.”
On the first morning, she beat Olympic and now world champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, the fastest heptathlon hurdler ever, with a 100m hurdles personal best of 12.81, which puts her inside the top 25 on the world list for that individual event this year.
She also set personal bests in the high jump and 800m (which she improved again in Talence) to amass 6344 points.
It made her only the fourth heptathlete under the age of 21 to achieve a top-eight finish in World Championships history.
She follows in the footsteps of the legendary Carolina Kluft (the champion in 2003 at just 20) and more recently, last year’s world leader Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who was fourth in 2013.
“The atmosphere in Beijing at the Bird’s Nest was great. We did a pre-training camp in Japan, where it was even hotter than China, so in Beijing it was not so hard.
“I was pleased with my eighth place. The first day was really good: PBs in the hurdles and high jump. But the second day, my long jump was 30 centimetres behind my PB so, yeah, I was really disappointed after that.”
Visser’s best performance of the year came in Gotzis in May, just as it had in 2014.
“Last year, I scored like 6110 points in Gotzis,” said Visser. “That was a big PB. But this year (in Gotzis), my PB was like 350pts more. In every single event I’ve improved. Some with little steps, some with bigger steps (big improvements in the throwing events). So, yeah, I was very happy. I expected to score a big PB – but not that big. It was the first time that I really surprised myself.”
Her Gotzis score of 6467 puts her in the world’s top 10 for 2015, despite being two years younger than anyone else in that elite bracket.
When pushed to explain her remarkable improvement, Visser is quick to praise her coach Bart Bennema and the all-weather set-up of the Dutch national athletics centre in Papendal, near Arnhem.
“It’s perfect for me,” added Visser, who trains, drinks coffee, eats and goes on holiday with the heptathlete-cum-200m world champion Dafne Schippers.
“My coach searched for someone who could help us, and help him for training. So that was nice, and it helped me. We worked together with Charles van Commenee and Rana Reider. I think that’s a good thing about my coach. It’s not like he wants to do everything by himself. He knows that some events he can coach better than others. In the events he knows less, he tries to find someone who can help.”
Access to world-class coaches, in addition to a weights programme that she says has made her stronger and faster, seems to be working a treat.
Visser doesn’t turn 21 until next February and doesn’t expect to do an indoor pentathlon in time to get an invite for the event at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, Portland 2016 in March but, instead, will try to compete in the 60m hurdles.
When she returns from a well-deserved holiday in Biarritz, the focus will also turn to the prospect of competing at a home European Championships in Amsterdam in July, and then the Rio 2016 Olympics Games just one month later.
“I’ve made big steps and hopefully I can do that again next year.”
With such a momentous year ahead, those steps could potentially translate into giant leaps on the biggest stage of all.
Thomas Byrne and James Charlton for the IAAF