Brianne Theisen and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon 200m at the London 2012 Olympic Games
The anticipated clash between the world’s top three heptathletes didn’t quite materialise at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, but Rio offers another opportunity for Jessica Ennis-Hill, Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Katarina Johnson-Thompson to battle it out for medals.
Theisen-Eaton admitted that she struggled to cope with the pressure in Beijing last year, while Johnson-Thompson’s competition ended in disaster when she fouled three times in the long jump. It left Olympic champion Ennis-Hill – who was returning to big-time competition following childbirth in 2014 – to take gold with a score of 6669.
The situation heading into Rio is eerily similar to last year for the trio of heptathletes; Theisen-Eaton leads this season’s world list after winning in Gotzis, Johnson-Thompson has had some minor injury worries, and Ennis-Hill is rounding into form at the right time after a confidence-boosting run in the 100m hurdles at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London.
Theisen-Eaton and Johnson-Thompson will have learned a lot from their experiences of last year, but Ennis-Hill is a consummate championship performer and will be keen to successfully defend her title.
Ennis-Hill won in Ratingen with a score of 6733 – higher than her marks from both of her World Championships victories. She also set a long jump PB of 6.63m in Ratingen and produced the second-fastest 100m hurdles time of her career with her 12.76 clocking in London.
The Briton nearly always produces her best score of the year at a major championships too, so Ennis-Hill could be set for a score in the region of 6800 in Rio.
The only question is whether that will be enough for gold.
Theisen-Eaton’s lifetime best is a shade higher than that at 6808, set in Gotzis last year. The Canadian’s strength is her consistency and all-round ability; she may not ‘win’ any of the individual disciplines, but she is always near the top of the pecking order in each one, and can be expected to get near – or even surpass – her PBs.
Her pentathlon victory at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 also showed that she is a lot stronger mentally than she was last year.
Johnson-Thompson banished her Beijing demons at the recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in London, where she won the long jump with 6.84m in a consistent series where all six of her jumps were beyond 6.60m. If anything, Johnson-Thompson's biggest challenge in Rio will be her fitness.
An old leg injury came back to haunt her in Gotzis earlier this year after clocking a PB of 22.79 in the 200m, but despite easing off on the second day, she still finished with a solid score of 6304.
Aside from her 200m PB, Johnson-Thompson has this year equalled her PB of 13.37 in the 100m hurdles, cleared an outdoor PB of 1.95m in the high jump and thrown a shot put PB of 13.14m. In simple terms, she is in the form of her life; she just needs her body to stay in one piece for the two days of competition.
But the contest of the double-barrelled heptathletes won’t be restricted to just three women.
Latvia’s Laura Ikauniece-Admidina took a surprise bronze in Beijing last year with a national record of 6516. She added more than 100 points to that mark earlier this year when finishing second in Gotzis with 6622.
Anouk Vetter may not have a double-barrelled surname, but the Dutchwoman underlined her medal credentials with a breakthrough performance at last month’s European Championships, taking gold with a national record of 6626.
Carolin Schafer carries German hopes. Like Johnson-Thompson, Schafer also registered three fouls in the heptathlon long jump in Beijing last year, but has rebounded this season to finish third in Gotzis with a PB of 6557 and second in Ratingen.
Akela Jones of Barbados, US champion Barbara Nwaba and Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam all have the potential to produce a big score if they can get close to their best in each of the seven disciplines.
The likes of 2014 world indoor champion Nadine Broersen, two-time European champion Antoinette Nana Djimou and European bronze medallist Ivona Dadic can also be expected to figure in the top 10.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF