Nafissatou Thiam in the pentathlon high jump at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade (© Getty Images)
Pressure – it’s something Nafissatou Thiam has come to accept as a constant companion since that evening last August when she claimed the Olympic heptathlon title in Rio. However, if the 22-year-old was feeling its burden on day one of the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade on Friday (3), then she certainly didn’t show it.
The Belgian stormed her way to a facile victory in the women’s pentathlon, racking up 4870 points to claim her first European indoor title inside the cavernous Kombank Arena. It started with a bang, the Olympic champion exploding down the track in the morning to clock a PB of 8.23 in the 60m hurdles. She followed that up with a superb clearance of 1.96m in the high jump, a championship best performance.
By then, talk was swirling that a world record was within reach, and Thiam stayed on course with a best of 15.29m in the shot put. A record began to look more doubtful, however, after she could manage a best of 6.37m in the long jump, which left her alone at the head of the standings. In the end, Thiam was able to both endure and enjoy what amounted to a four-lap victory parade in the 800m, where she battled through the pain to clock 2:24.44.
It left her with a tally of 4870, moving her to 10th on the world indoor all-time pentathlon list. Afterwards, Thiam admitted she had struggled more than she showed with the pressure since becoming Olympic champion.
“I doubted it a lot before coming here,” she said. “After Rio people are expecting a lot from me and I only wanted to come here if I was well prepared. I did my thing and after four events everything went great. I feel a little bad about the 800 metres, but I won and that’s what matters.”
Her closest rival, Austria’s Ivona Dadic, enjoyed a day of days, smashing her previous best with a national record of 4767 in second. Hungary’s Gyorgyi Zsivoczky-Farkas also broke new ground in third, her total of 4723 a PB.
Lisek wins high-quality pole vault final
Though Thiam may have been the individual star of the day, the men’s pole vaulters took the honours for collective brilliance, serving up a competition in which six men soared over 5.80m, with Poland’s Piotr Lisek taking the title with a best of 5.85m.
For much of the latter stages of the competition, it appeared the title was destined to head to the Czech Republic and Jan Kudlicka; he was the only athlete to clear 5.80m with a flawless series, which many expected would be good enough for gold.
Joining him soon after, however, were Lisek, Greece’s Konstadinos Filippidis, Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe and France’s Axel Chapelle. At 5.85m, Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski also launched himself back into contention with a third-time clearance, but in the end that would only prove good enough for bronze.
Filippidis cleared 5.85m on his first attempt, as did Lisek, but the Pole was in command by dint of his first-time clearance at 5.80m, securing a victory he could scarcely imagine after issues in training in recent weeks.
“I didn’t have the best preparations,” he said. “I’ve broken about three poles and that was very difficult to cope with mentally. I used old poles and borrowed some from Pawel [Wojciechowski], so I’m very pleased with this gold.”
After the three remaining athletes failed three times at 5.90m, the podium positions were set for what will be remembered as one of the most competitive pole vaults in history, even in the absence of four-time champion Renaud Lavillenie.
Pozzi and Roleder take hurdles crowns
In the men’s 60m hurdles, Britain’s Andrew Pozzi did something rarely achieved in an event so brief, recovering from a sluggish start to take gold in 7.51. The 24-year-old overhauled reigning champion Pascal Martinot-Lagarde of France off the final barrier to claim victory by just 0.01, with Petr Svoboda inches behind in third, the Czech hurdler springing an upset by claiming bronze in 7.53.
The women’s race saw Germany’s Cindy Roleder add the indoor crown to the European outdoor title she won in Amsterdam last year. The 27-year-old had been beaten at the recent German Indoor Championships, where Pamela Dutkiewicz clocked a European lead of 7.79, but Roleder is one for the big occasion. She produced a crisp, commanding display to win in 7.88 after a series of faulty starts tested the athletes’ nerves to their limit. Alina Talay of Belarus came home second in 7.92, with Dutkiewicz third in 7.95.
Hungary’s Anita Marton was another to impress, taking gold in the women’s shot put after a strong series that included two efforts beyond 19 metres. The Olympic bronze medallist took control of the competition with a world-leading 19.24m in the third round, then with victory secured, added to it in the final round with 19.28m.
“In the morning I was a bit nervous, feeling under more pressure because I was the favourite,” said Marton, who threw 18.44m on her third attempt to secure qualification after two below-par efforts of 17.66m and 17.67m. “In the afternoon I felt more relaxed. Although I didn’t get the national record, I’m very happy with the world-leading position.”
In the men’s triple jump qualification, Germany’s Max Hess unleashed a world-leading 17.52m in the first round to break the German indoor record, with France’s Melvin Raffin the only other athlete to surpass 17 metres with his one jump of 17.20m.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF