Nafi Thiam takes charge in heptathlon battle at European Championships

    It was billed as the clash of the titans, a showdown between the two greatest female multisport athletes of the age. But after two events Britain’s double world heptathlon Katarina Johnson-Thompson looks on the ropes at these European Athletics Championships, with the Olympic champion Nafi Thiam leading her by 143 points.

    No one knew what to expect from the 29-year-old Thiam, given that she had not competed since 2022 due to a serious Achilles injury. But after a conservative effort in the 100m hurdles, where she ran 13.74sec to score 1015 points, the Belgian made an emphatic move in the high jump with first-time clearances at every height from 1.80m to 1.95m to score another 1171 points.

    That put Thiam in the lead with 2186 points, 108 ahead of her compatriot Noor Vidts in second. Meanwhile Johnson-Thompson was back in fourth place on 2043 points, after running 13.66 in the 100m hurdles – more than half a second off her best – and clearing just 1.83m in the high jump, 15cm below her record from 2016.

    There are still five events to go, and both women are focusing predominantly on getting into shape for Paris. However Thiam is likely to extend her lead in the third event, the shot put, later this afternoon – although Johnson-Thompson has the much better 200m which takes place this evening.

    On the opening morning of these championships, there was better news for Britain as Jemma Reekie, Georgia Bell and Katie Snowden all qualified for Sunday’s final of the 1500m. However, while Bell looked impressive in finishing second, she revealed afterwards it wasn’t so simple. “Someone’s spikes went right through my shoe,” she said. “They’ve completely fallen apart. It was a bit messy but I’m through to the final on Sunday. That’s the most important thing.”

    British pair Georgia Bell and Katie Snowden in action during their heat. Photograph: Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters

    Meanwhile, one British athlete will be looking to further rebuild her career on Saturday. In 2019, Amy Hunt appeared to be a 17 year old who had it all. On the track she shattered the women’s 200m under-18 world record in 22.42sec – a time which would have won a bronze medal at the senior world championships in Doha that same year. While off it, she got into Cambridge University to study English.

    At the time it didn’t seem outlandish for Vogue to predict that she would be one of the “faces to define the decade”. But then injuries – and the stress of burning the candle at both ends – led Hunt to fear that she would never get back to her best.

    Things got so bad that her mum had to lift her into the shower because she was unable to bend her knee, but after five years – and major surgery – Hunt can finally see a path back.

    “The injury was so traumatic it killed off a lot of my nerves in the area so it took a while to get that back,” she says. “There were definitely points last year when I was in the trenches, finishing my degree and thinking if I ever get back.”

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    But the day after graduating last summer she flew to Padova in Italy to train under Marco Airale and such has been her progress since that a medal in the women’s 100m and 4x100m relay here in Rome is not beyond her.

    “I graduated from Cambridge and the next day got up at 2am, flew over to Padova and that was it. From that point onwards everything has been going so, so well. It’s amazing. I go to Venice every week, life is pretty good.

    “I’m still very much getting used to handling my new body, new training and new technique I’ve accessed under the new setup. But the 100m is such an unpredictable event, anything can happen.”

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