Sometimes, like in Moscow four years ago, the 800m can change everything in a heptathlon.
Other times, like in London this evening, the pre-event point differentials are such that it’s difficult to upset the formbook.
Nafissatou Thiam’s 172-point cushion going into the final discipline was too much for anyone to make up. And while second-placed Carolin Schafer was just three points ahead of Anouk Vetter, the German’s superior 800 form meant that silver was relatively safe. Vetter, meanwhile, was 169 points ahead of Yorgelis Rodriguez, which meant the Cuban would have to beat the Dutch athlete by close to 12 seconds in the 800m. Katarina Johnson-Thompson, fifth going into the 800m, had an even tougher ask as she was 71 points behind Rodriguez.
Germany’s Claudia Salman-Rath, the best 800m runner of the heptathlon field, went out hard, passing 200m in 28.75. Followed by Johnson-Thompson and Rodriguez, Salman-Rath covered the first lap in 1:00.58 while Vetter and Thiam were at the back of the pack, about eight seconds behind.
The pace, as often happens in a heptathlon 800m, began to slip on the second lap, despite the huge roars from the near-capacity crowd. Salman-Rath passed 600m in 1:33.16 with Johnson-Thompson still a few metres adrift and Rodriguez a similar distance behind in third.
The German went on to cross the line in 2:07.37, while Johnson-Thompson finished in 2:08.10, the second-best time of her career. Rodriguez, meanwhile, clocked a big PB of 2:10.48, but she and the Briton looked behind to see that Vetter was only about 50 metres away from the finish line, meaning the European champion had done enough – 2:19.43, for the record – to secure the bronze medal.
Thiam was the only athlete to finish behind Vetter in the third heat of the heptathlon 800m, but despite clocking just 2:21.42, the Belgian had done more than enough to add the world crown to the Olympic title she won last year, scoring 6784 to become her country's first world champion in any event.
“I wasn’t here for the Olympics five years ago, but this is really incredible,” said Thiam. “I’m super happy. The 800m isn’t my favourite but everybody has to do it. There was a lot of support for all of the athletes throughout the whole competition.”
Schafer, who ran a solid 800m of 2:15.34, held on to the silver medal with a score of 6696, while Vetter scored a Dutch record of 6636, the best ever mark for bronze at the World Championships.
Although she missed out on a medal by 42 points, Rodriguez was rewarded with a Cuban record of 6594, the highest score never to win a medal at a World Championships. And Johnson-Thompson, who relinquished about 200 points in the high jump, finished fifth with 6558, her best score at a major championships and her third successive top-six finish at a global championships. It was also the first World Championships final with five women scoring in excess of 6500 points.
With a javelin throw of 52.29m and an 800m run of 2:13.44, Ivona Dadic ended her heptathlon campaign strongly to place sixth overall with an Austrian record of 6417. Nadine Visser was seventh with 6370, just eight points ahead of Salman-Rath. Hungary’s Xenia Krizsan and Czech Republic’s Eliska Klucinova were the only other women to surpass 6300 points, scoring 6356 and 6313 to place ninth and 10th respectively.