Hanna Melnychenko in the womens Heptathlon at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 (© Getty Images)
The women’s Heptathlon in Moscow was played down by many people after a few favourites dropped out of the event, but that didn’t mean anything at the Luzhniki Stadium during two days of magnificent performances by several athletes.
Crushed personal bests and unthinkable achievements in one of the tightest ever Heptathlon competitions. And in the end only the winning result was the lowest ever in a World Championships; the overall depth was actually better than in many previous editions.
It all came down to the last event and in the matter of the gold medal, leader Hanna Melnychenko made sure that Canadian Brianne Theisen Eaton stood no chance against on snatching the title in the 800m and it was not due to lack of trying. With almost five seconds between the two athletes in terms of points, the 24-year-old took control of the 800m after 200m, attacking with all the strength she had.
With the five-time NCAA champion passing 400m in 62.37, the others were surprisingly close with the most unexpected being Dutch Dafne Schippers, who had a much slower personal best of 2:15.52 going into the race. But with Melnychenko right behind her shoulder with 100m to go, it was always clear that the 30-year-old Ukrainian was going to take the title.
Melnychenko, competing in just her second World Championships after finishing sixth in Berlin 2009, lowered her personal best by a massive 2.69 seconds in the last event to clock 2:09.85, bringing her total score to a PB of 6586, exceeding her previous 2009 mark by 141.
She is the first Ukrainian gold medallist at the IAAF World Championships, their only previous medal being Lyudmyla Blonska's silver in Osaka 2007. 6586 points is also the lowest winning score in the history of the World Championships, the previous was 6651 by Syria's Ghada Shouaa in Gothenburg 1995.
Theisen Eaton finished her Heptathlon with a boom, setting a personal best in the Long Jump, a season’s best in the Javelin and a personal best in 800m, clocking 2:09.03. It brought her total to 6530, a big improvement of 90 points on her previous best from the 2012 NCAA Championships.
Wife of Decathlon winner Ashton Eaton, this is the first time that a husband and wife have won a medal in the same event at the same World Championships. It’s also the first Heptathlon medal for Canada; the previous best result was ninth place by Jessica Zelinka in Daegu 2011.
With Schippers’ pre-race 800m personal best about five seconds slower than Briton Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s and seven seconds slower than German Claudia Rath’s, the battle for the bronze was supposed to be between the latter two, but the 21-year-old Dutchwoman showed what willpower can do.
Being a good sprinter, Schippers had probably never had to really run the 800m, but her performance today was from a different world. With the other medal contenders well in her sights during the final straight, Schippers produced a final sprint finishing in 2:08.62, crushing her previous 2:15.52 personal best from the London Olympics by a staggering 6.9 seconds to win the bronze medal.
Although the 800m result and her total score of 6477 were her only two personal bests in the competition, she still added 117 points to her previous PB, breaking Karin Ruckstuhl’s 6423 national record from the 2006 European Championships.
This is the first ever medal for the Netherlands at a World Championships Heptathlon, the country having twice finished eighth; Tineke Hidding in 1983 and Rucksthul in 2005, both in Helsinki.
Germany's Rath battled bravely, but even a big 2.25-second improvement in the 800m was not enough to get her to the medals. A 6462 points personal best, a huge 145 points improvement on her best from June 2013, and a total of four personal bests (including Heptathlon) is a big achievement at her first global championships.
Johnson-Thompson also competed superbly, having only contested one other Heptathlon this season in winning the European under-23 title. She set five personal bests during the competition, including the total score of 6449 points; another massive improvement on her previous PB of 6267 from the London Olympics.
She too was superb in the 800m, clocking her first ever sub-2:10 with 2:07.64, lowering her personal best by 3.12 seconds for fifth place in the competition.
The athlete with the best pre-World Championships result, Sharon Day, had some disappointments but still finished the competition in style, clocking a 2:08.94 800m personal best to finish sixth overall with 6407, a big improvement on her 10th place in 2009 and 18th place in 2011.
Czech 25-year-old Eliska Klucinova, competing in just her second World Championships, was seventh with 6332 to break her own national record from 2012, having set three personal bests in the competition. European champion Antoinette Nana Djimou of France was eighth with 6326, while one of the pre-competition medal favourites Karolina Tyminska finished in ninth place with 6270 after a solid 2:06.64 800m heat win.
Despite the fact that the Heptathlon was expected to be an anti-climax after the withdrawals of Jessica Ennis and Tatyana Chernova, the tight differences in point scores and a possible medal for at least eight athletes, made the results in the competition better.
Only one athlete in the top eight did not set personal best or season's best, and six athletes came up with a personal best, some of them with a huge margin too. The 56-point winning margin for Melnychenko is the second-lowest in the history of the World Championships, with the lowest being 40 points between Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Sabine Braun in Stuttgart 1993.
The 109 points between the winner and bronze medallist is the lowest ever, the previous one was 129 in Gothenburg 1995. 6326-point score for eighth place is actually fourth-best out of 14 World Championships; 6332 for seventh is also fourth, 6407 for sixth is the second-best ever, as is 6449 for fifth, so any talk about a low-standard Heptathlon at the Moscow World Championships can be put to rest.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF