Brianne Theisen and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon 200m at the London 2012 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
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