Nafissatou Thiam shattered the pentathlon world record at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul on Friday (3) as she amassed 5055 points, pushed all the way by a tigerish performance from Poland’s Adrianna Sulek, whose total of 5014 also surpassed the mark of 5013 set in this same Atakoy Arena by Ukraine’s Nataliya Dobrynska in 2012.
Dobrynska, fittingly, was a spectator on the night and she witnessed a towering contest that concluded with Belgium’s 28-year-old Olympic, world and European double champion securing one of the few remaining adornments available to her.
Before these championships the 23-year-old Pole had spoken boldly about beating the world record.
She lived up to her words, setting personal bests in four events and equalling it in another, and for a few moments it seemed as if her ferocious front-running effort over the final two laps of the concluding 800 metres, where she looked likely to collapse over the final agonising 20 metres, might have tipped the contest against all odds.
But after clocking 2:07.17, well inside her best of 2:09.56 from last year, she had to settle for silver as Thiam - as she had done throughout what was her first contest of the season - responded to her challenge and produced a final sprint to reduce her indoor personal best from 2:18.80 to 2:13.60.
When confirmation of the result came through both athletes were still prostrate with the efforts expended in an epic competition in which Sulek, for all her efforts, could never exert significant pressure on a defending champion who was operating at a different level.
Bronze went to Belgium’s Noor Vidts, who had beaten her compatriot’s national record in winning the 2022 world indoor title, and who finished here with 4823 points having recovered from a recent viral illness.
Thiam said: "Coming here, I felt very confident; I have done a lot of good work and of course, the record was in my mind. But you need a good competition, to feel good and to perform well. It is a good information for me that I managed to show this result despite the fact that not all events were perfect today. The jump - the long jump, high jump could have been better. So I can still build on this. It is a big motivation for me to move further.
"After the 60m, I already felt like, Oh, this can be my day. When you have good competitors like we had today, they just push you to show your best. At the 800m, I did not watch anyone, I knew I have to get a good time and I will be first."
And how will the newly anointed world record-holder celebrate her triumph? "Tonight, it is going to be a doping control, eating and sleeping (laughs)."
After equalling her 60m hurdles personal best of 8.23, Thiam moved clear as the only high jumper to clear 1.92 and a personal best of 15.54m in the shot put gave her a lead of 144 points going into the evening session.
Sulek had set personal bests of 8.21 in the 60m hurdles and 13.89m in the shot and had equalled her personal best of 1.89m in the high jump.
The Pole trimmed Thiam’s lead in the first of the evening’s events as she set a personal best of 6.62m in the long jump, but Thiam marginalised the impact with a third-round effort of 6.59m.
Going into the 800 metres, the Belgian led by 134 points and was looking for a time of 2:15.60 to get inside Dobrynska’s mark. By the close her margin was just 41 points – but it was enough to tick all the boxes.
After completing winter training in South Africa under her new coach Michael Van der Plaetsen, Thiam announced: “I'm not going to lie. After all these months of hard work, I'm curious to see where I stand.”
Once again, she stands on the top step of the podium – but this time with a world record to go with her gold.
After the competition, Dobrynska sportingly told European Athletics: “I had a feeling that my record would be broken today. That's why I’m here. But two athletes! And it’s fine. I am very happy about this because my record lasted for 11 years. The sport has moved on and fantastic athletes have made great results.”
Weir delivers first gold of the championships with huge effort in the shot put
The first gold of these championships went to Italy’s Zane Weir, who won a mightily dramatic men’s shot put final with an Italian record of 22.06m.
Weir had moved into the lead in the second round as the shot thudded down at a national record of 21.89m.
But he was swiftly replaced as reigning champion Tomas Stanek of the Czech Republic responded with a sharp, powerful effort that he acclaimed with a huge roar and shaking of fists. Stanek’s enthusiasm was not misplaced. It was a season’s best of 21.90m, taking him into the lead by a centimetre.
The third round, however, saw Weir re-stake his claim as he improved his national mark by a further 17 centimetres, the best effort recorded by a European this season, and it proved enough to keep Stanek at bay.
A final-round effort of 21.84m moved Portuguese-based Ukrainian’s first-round leader Roman Kokoschko into bronze medal position ahead of Croatia’s European outdoor champion Filip Mihaljevic, who threw 21.43m.
“I am very emotional as I have been overlooked for a long time,” said Weir, who dedicated his win to his coach Paolo Dal Soglio, incidentally the last Italian winner of this title in 1996. “It feels good to finally be where I am. The previous season was difficult because of the broken finger but here I am now."
A third-round effort of 17.60m, the best in the world this year, enabled Portugal’s Olympic, world and European champion Pedro Pichardo to retain his men’s triple jump title after he had taken a first-round lead with 17.26m.
Silver went to Nikolaos Andrikopoulos of Greece on 16.58m, a centimetre ahead of Germany’s perennial bronze medallist Max Hess.
A second Portuguese gold was delivered on the night courtesy of women’s shot putter Auriol Dongmo, who retained her title in dominant fashion with a European season’s best of 19.76m – although all four of her other scoring efforts would have been enough to win.
"I felt some pressure because my indoor sesaon was the tough one. I wasn't very sure what was about to happen. Last week at the training I became a little bit more confident about what I can do here. I had some really good throws. I am really pleased because throwing over 19.50m is a good starting point which gives me extra motivation to work hard.
"I wanted to throw over 20m and in my head that's what I was working for. Also, coming here as a reigning champion put some pressure but today everything went well so I am really really happy," said Dongmo.
Germany’s Sara Gambetta was a surprise silver medallist with 18.83m, ahead of Sweden’s Fanny Roos on 18.42m, with European champion Jessica Schilder having to settle for fifth place on 18.29m.
“I didn't expect to win the medal today,” said Gambetta. “It was my goal to get one but I didn't expect it.
“Auriol is playing in another league. She is the only European who can compete with the competitors overseas. For us Europeans the goal is to close the gap between Auriol's throws and ours.”
Reigning European outdoor champion Jessica Schilder didn't have such a good night and could only finish fifth with a best effort of 18.29m.
Full results here.
Mike Rowbottom for European Athletics