Nafissatou Thiam achieved a second full house of major heptathlon titles one day before her 28th birthday at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships but the Belgian still has so much she wants to achieve in the event.
But in the next chapter of her illustrious career, Thiam is putting more of a focus on scores and records than championships and medals.
“Championships remain a goal. I want to keep winning medals, but I'm also thinking about points, scores and records now. I want to get as far as possible. I want to reach the maximum of my potential,” said Thiam as quoted by Sporza.
Thiam is one of only four athletes to have broken the 7000 point-barrier. Her lifetime best of 7013 points dates back to 2017 and the only athletes to have bettered that mark are Carolina Kluft who holds the European record with 7032 points and Jackie Joyner-Kersee whose world record of 7291 points has been the standard bearer in the event since 1988.
With a view of ameliorating her personal best and potentially chasing these revered records, Thiam has made some radical changes in the off-season. She has parted ways with her long-time coach Roger Lespagnard who guided Thiam to back-to-back Olympic and European titles as well as world titles in the heptathlon in 2017 and 2022.
The 28-year-old has now joined forces with Michael Van der Plaetsen, the brother and coach of 2016 European decathlon champion Thomas Van der Plaetsen. Michael will be Thiam’s principal coach although she will be seeking counsel from other specialist coaches in her zeal to fulfil her potential.
The pair have worked together in the past albeit on an ad hoc basis, most notably at the Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer when Van der Plaetsen stood in for Thiam’s coach on the second day after Lespagnard was forced to self-isolate after returning a positive test for coronavirus.
"I thought about it for a long time," said Thiam. "It was a rich collaboration but after 14 years I want to keep learning and evolving. Working in your comfort zone is reassuring, but you evolve as a person and athlete. I wanted to work in a different way at this stage.
"Then what can Michael teach me? I won't make comparisons. It's no use saying what might be better or different. But maybe it'll be less traditional, a little more modern."
But while Thiam, who describes 2023 as a year of transition, is motivated by the prospect of making further headway up the world all-time list, the 28-year-old is also thinking about the Paris 2024 Olympic Games where she could become the first combined eventer in history - male or female - to win three successive Olympic titles.
After a standout junior career, Thiam made her senior breakthrough at the 2016 Olympic Games where she won her first major senior title with 6810 points before defending her title at the postponed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer with 6791 points.
And she is also thinking beyond the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris as well.
"No, Paris will not be the terminus. Or so I hope. But those may be my last Games. And I also think that you don't always have to end your career after the Olympics. I feel good anyway," said Thiam.
World all-time top-10
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) 7291 points
- Carolina Kluft (SWE) 7032 points
- Nafissatou Thiam (BEL) 7013 points
- Larisa Nikitina (URS) 7007 points
- Sabine Braun (GER) 6985 points
- Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GBR) 6981 points
- Jessica Ennis-Hill (GBR) 6955 points
- Sabine Paetz (GDR) 6946 points
- Ghada Shouaa (SYR) 6942 points
- Ramona Neubert (GDR) 6935 points
Nafi's top-10 scores
- 7013 - 2017 Gotzis
- 6947 - 2022 World Athletics Championships, Oregon
- 6819 - 2018 Talence
- 6816 - 2018 European Athletics Championships, Berlin
- 6810 - 2016 Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro
- 6806 - 2018 Gotzis
- 6791 - 2020 Olympic Games, Tokyo
- 6784 - 2017 World Athletics Championships, London
- 6677 - 2019 World Athletics Championships, Doha
- 6628 - 2022 European Athletics Championships, Munich