The new world heptathlon champion, Nafissatou Thiam, spoke on Monday in a London hotel of the weekend win that transformed her into Belgium’s first ever world athletics champion, one year after she rose to Olympic glory in Rio de Janeiro. In addition to her status as a national star, she could now become an international icon, which the International Amateur Athletic Federation would like her to be. “I’m not afraid to be an icon, nor do I wish to be one,” she said. “I’m pursuing my career. If I can make people wish to become involved in sports and be an example, that’s great. I don’t work every day to become an icon, but to achieve my goals.”
Referring to the pressure that she had undergone before the competition, she said: “I’m happy at the way I was able to react on the track. The most important thing is not to forget, despite all the enthusiasm around me and the excitement, that I did what had to be done, the maximum, and I cannot do more. Moreover, even if I make a lot of sacrifices, it’s just sport, there’s life beyond that. If you lose sight of that, that’s when you begin to lose control”.
On the difficulty of being a sportsperson of a (very) high level, she said: “Despite all the pressure around you, the media, the public, the hardest thing for any sportsperson is knowing that you’ve worked hard with no guarantee that it’s going to pay off.”
Thiam said she was very satisfied with her performance in London. “I managed to be very consistent, even though I didn’t break any personal records (as had been the case in Rio and Götzis). Being consistent all round and not making mistakes, that’s the key to the heptathlon and that’s the hardest thing about it.”
“For everyone, I’d won before the 800 metres (the seventh and last event) but not for me,” she added. “So many things can happen. How are the others going to run? We had a slow start and, at the end, when your legs are tired, you don’t feel like sprinting for nothing.
“I always wonder how far I can go in the heptathlon, and I want to know. The high jump? Why not later, if I feel like it and still have the energy. But right now, I’m not at all interested. Today, it’s just part of the heptathlon.”