Nafissatou Thiam in the heptathlon high jump at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
In the third part of our 2017 year-end review series, statisticians A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava look back at all the action in the combined events.
2017 was 'year one' of the post-Eaton era in the decathlon. The retirement of the best decathlete ever – and the winner of the four most recent global titles – of course created a major void in the event. The most likely candidate to fill it was Olympic silver medallist Kevin Mayer of France and he certainly lived up to expectations.
At the Rio Olympic Games he raised his personal best by more than 300 points to 8834. At the IAAF World Championships London 2017 Mayer came close to matching that score with his 8768 tally, winning by more than 200 points. What stood out in his series were personal bests in the three speed events: 100m, 400m and 110m hurdles.
It’s too early to tell if London was the beginning of a 'Mayer era' but it should be noted that the Frenchman, at age 25, was the second youngest in the top eight in London. Only fourth-placed Janek Öiglane, the latest in the long tradition of outstanding Estonian decathletes, was younger.
Öiglane, 23, also illustrated how fast things can change. His personal best coming into the season was 7945; he then went from 8037 for 14th in Götzis to 8170 at home in Tallinn to 8371 in London.
On the other hand, of the 13 athletes that finished ahead of Öiglane in Götzis, the most prestigious non-championship meeting, only Germany’s Rico Freimuth improved upon his Götzis score at the World Championships.
That was quite remarkable as decathletes usually get their top scores at major championships. At the World Championships in 2013 and 2015 and at the Olympic Games in 2016, six or seven out of the top eight recorded their season’s bests, while just three managed the same feat in London 2017.
Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium just edged Briton Jessica Ennis-Hill for the 2016 Olympic heptathlon title in Rio, winning by 35 points. The 31-year-old Ennis-Hill, the 2012 Olympic champion and winner of four world titles (one indoors), retired after Rio, but that didn’t slow the 23-year-old Belgian. Gladly there were two new challengers, Germany’s Carolin Schäfer and Laura Ikauniece-Admidiņa of Latvia, who in Götzis both produced their first heptathlons over 6800 points.
Thiam became only the fourth athlete in history to break the 7000-point barrier, winning with 7013 for a world lead and national record in Götzis, to move up to third on the world all-time list behind world record-holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s 7291 and Swede Carolina Klüft’s 7032 European record. The Belgian had a perfect season, also winning the European indoor pentathlon title with 4870 in Belgrade in March.
Clearly the IAAF World Championships heptathlon in London did not go as planned for the top two, but Thiam still emerged as a clear winner with 6784 with Schäfer grabbing the silver with 6696. The German also won the IAAF Combined Events Challenge, with her 6667-point performance in Ratingen added to her Gotzis and London scores for a clear series win with 20,199 points. Ikauniece-Admidiņa, meanwhile, did not finish in London, only running the 100m hurdles race before calling it a day.
Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands came up with the performance of a lifetime to win the bronze medal, scoring 6636, 10 points more than she did in Amsterdam the year before to claim the European title. Cuban Yorgelis Rodriguez set a 6594 national record for fourth place.
Vetter scored 19,496 points for second in the IAAF Combined Events Challenge with Rodriguez third place with 19,166. In London Katarina Johnson-Thompson was fifth, scoring 6558.
Mirko Jalava (women’s events) and A Lennart Julin (men’s events) for the IAAF