RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Belgian student Nafissatou Thiam won the Olympic heptathlon gold medal on Saturday as the 21-year-old did just enough in the final 800 meters race to edge out Britain’s defending champion Jessica Ennis-Hill.
After two days of see-saw competition Thiam went into the final event with a lead of 142 points, which equated to around nine seconds.
Ennis-Hill ran hard from the front to finish well clear but Thiam dug deep to come in just over seven seconds behind, a second inside her personal best, and good enough to take gold.
“I still can’t believe it, I didn’t come for a medal. I didn’t think about it at all,” said Thiam.
“It’s crazy. I wasn’t expecting that - maybe top eight, but not the gold.
“In the 800m I was just trying not to let Jess go, I thought I could do 2:15 or 16 and not let her go too far. I guess my life is going to change, I am still at university so maybe I have a decision to make.”
Ennis-Hill, who came back from having a baby to win the world title last year, led overnight but Thiam sneaked into a five point lead after a personal best 6.58 meters with her final attempt in the morning long jump.
Ennis-Hill’s 6.34m was solid enough though as the two headed into the javelin looking as if the gold was between them but Thiam’s massive 53.13 throw effectively settled it.
The Briton’s personal best was 9.47 seconds better than Thiam’s but the new mother likes to measure her performances these days in terms of PBPBs – post-baby personal bests – and it always looked too big a gap.
“It’s so hard to find the words to describe this. It’s very emotional,” Ennis-Hill said.
“I have to make a big decision about what I’m going to do. This could be my last one.”
Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton claimed bronze after a strong second day.
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly