Nafissatou Thiam will start a resounding favourite at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 to join combined events legends Carolina Kluft and Jessica Ennis-Hill as a back-to-back world heptathlon champion.
As the world, Olympic and European title holder, the tall, dynamic Belgian is currently riding high as the pre-eminent heptathlete of her generation.
In her lone heptathlon appearance of 2019 in Talence, Thiam dominated, despite struggling with an elbow injury, to win with a world-leading mark of 6819.
Clearing a stunning world heptathlon high jump best of 2.02m in Talence – a performance good enough for joint-second on the high jump world list for 2019 – she once again demonstrated her world-class ability in the discipline.
Within the course of the season, the 1.84m tall Belgian has twice set national long jump records, soaring out to 6.86m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham. She also recorded a 200m PB of 24.37 in May.
Great Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who set a personal best pf 6813 to win the prestigious Gotzis meet, would appear to be Thiam’s chief challenger.
The world indoor and European indoor pentathlon champion has encountered her wobbles at past World Championships, no-marking in the long jump at the 2015 edition in Beijing and placing fifth at the 2017 World Championships in London when fancied to win a medal.
But after claiming European silver and Commonwealth heptathlon gold in 2018, and excelling in Gotzis, she appears a more mature and well-rounded combined eventer, surely capable of a sustained challenge in Doha.
Making her fourth successive World Championships appearance, US champion Erica Bougard is another name to watch. Claiming her national title with an impressive points haul of 6663 fills the 26-year-old with belief she can comfortably better her 18th-place finish at the previous World Championships in London.
Bougard’s compatriot, Kendell Williams, the 2014 world U20 100m hurdles champion, accumulated a PB of 6610 to place second at the US Championships, and is another who could mount a strong challenge.
The 2012 world U20 heptathlon silver medallist Xenia Krizsan has made a seismic improvement in 2019 and on current form could feature in the medal shake up. The 26-year-old Hungarian, who came into the season with a best of 6390, accumulated 6469 for third in Gotzis before advancing her best to a national record of 6619 when second in Talence.
Austria mounts a strong twin challenge through the 2017 World University Games champion Verena Preiner and 2018 world indoor pentathlon silver medallist Ivona Dadic. Preiner, 24, has twice improved her PB this year, posting an impressive national record of 6591 in Ratingen. Dadic, who placed second at that meeting with 6491, is another with strong credentials.
World bronze medallist Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands is also entered. Vetter has yet to complete a heptathlon this year but, if she fires, watch out for her spectacular shot put and javelin ability.
The other entries include 2014 world indoor pentathlon champion Nadine Broersen of the Netherlands, Finnish champion Maria Huntington, European U23 champion Geraldine Ruckstuhl of Switzerland and France’s European indoor pentathlon bronze medallist Solene Ndama.
Steve Landells for the IAAF