“I’ve kind of figured out the javelin this year,” Brianne Theisen-Eaton said after ending the first day of the heptathlon in sixth place on Friday night.
Those words later proved prophetic when the ancient Olympic skill – part of the combined events in heptathlon – became the catalyst for her big comeback on Saturday night to finish on the podium.
By the time the javelin throw came around on Saturday, Theisen-Eaton had already moved up in the standings to fifth, faring well on one of her stronger events, the long jump. This is something she was aware could be possible, despite falling back in shot put and the 200 metres to end the first day.
“I don’t really know what happened with the third and fourth events (Friday),” Theisen-Eaton said. “It just didn’t go well for whatever reason. I wasn’t really panicking about it, as I know that my second day is good and I don’t really have any super weak events.”
The Canadian leaped for 6.48m in the long jump on Saturday. Although it wasn’t near her personal best (6.72m), it was the fourth longest on the day and garnered 89 more points than Carolin Schafer of Germany for her jump, moving Theisen-Eaton up one spot to fifth.
Before she could take the runway for the sixth of seven events – javelin – Theisen-Eaton had to wait as the two immediate competitors ahead of her for the podium, Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson in third and Akela Jones of Barbados in fourth, were in the first group of throwers while she was in the second.
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Here Johnson-Thompson wilted, tossing what turned out to be the third lowest throw in the event, opening the door for Theisen-Eaton to pick off one more opponent on her way to the podium.
Jones is also not known as a particularly strong javelin thrower, though she managed a career best of 42.00m, giving Theisen-Eaton a target.
When the second group of throwers arrived, the Canadian was the first with a spear in her hand on the runway. She would get three chances to displace Johnson-Thompson and Jones but needed just one. Running up to the arc at the top of the runway from which the javelin is launched, Theisen-Eaton unleashed the missile that rekindled Canada’s medal hopes in the heptathlon. The pace of her run and the fury of her release combined to cover 47.36m.
That single throw – slightly shy of Theisen-Eaton’s personal best of 47.74m set back in May at Gotzis, Austria – smashed Jones’ mark and cleared Johnson-Thompson by a full 11 metres, gaining Theisen-Eaton the points to propel her to the Olympic podium. That’s how quickly fortunes change in the world of elite athletics.
However, the night was far from being finished at javelin. Quietly lurking in the heptathlon table, accumulating points and waiting for her turn to strike at her best event, Latvia’s Laura Ikauniece-Admidina topped the field with a javelin throw of 55.93m. Her 975 points to Theisen-Eaton’s 809 for their respective best placed the Latvian top five in the overall standings, 37 points behind third place with only the 800m run remaining.
Here Theisen-Eaton proved prophetic once more.
“My day two is really good,” the Canadian had said the previous night. “If I have to run a fast (800m) I can try to do that.”
While Germany’s Schafer was in fourth place following the javelin, only 12 points behind Theisen-Eaton heading into the final event, she wasn’t considered a threat in the 800m. Theisen-Eaton had to be in form for the new emerging challenger, Ikauniece-Admidina. Had the Latvian managed to run 800m roughly three seconds faster than the Canadian, the bronze medal would’ve been on a plane toward the Baltic at the end of competition instead of Saskatchewan, Theisen-Eaton’s home province.
Ikauniece-Admidina literally did everything she could, set a personal best and beat Theisen-Eaton in the 800m, but only by 0.07 seconds. The Canadian knew which runner she had to keep close. There were three personal bests set in the final race, and four season’s bests, including one from Theisen-Eaton. With her podium fate firmly in her grasp, Theisen-Eaton authored her own Olympic story in the final two events of the heptathlon.
The bronze medal accomplishment for Canada’s combined events queen with 6653 points has to be viewed with consideration to the type of incredible athletic achievements witnessed over the two days from her competitors.
The wholly impressive gold medallist Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium (6810 points), who will be 22 before the Games end, set five personal bests, including a world all-time mark (1.98m) in the high jump portion, a feat shared by Johnson-Thompson on the same day pinning Theisen-Eaton further back in the points race despite a near career-best of 1.86m from the Canadian.
The remarkable Jessica Ennis-Hill, who came back to defend her heptathlon gold from London 2012 after giving birth, and battling reported athletic injuries, walked away with a silver medal just 35 points shy of first place. She set the pace early on day one in the opening event, running the 100m hurdles in 12.84 seconds to grab an early 52 point lead on Theisen-Eaton, an advantage that she simply refused to relinquish over the course of the next six events.
Among these tremendous athletic women who can seemingly do it all, is a Canadian, who proved as fit mentally as she is unquestionably gifted athletically.
“I was confident and relaxed and I felt really good getting up this morning,” Theisen-Eaton said on putting the first day behind her. “I was just trying to have fun and not worry today.”
By enjoying herself and capitalizing on chances when they arrived, Theisen-Eaton adds an Olympic bronze to her world championship silver earned last summer in Beijing. The 27-year-old also has a world indoor championship (pentathlon) gold from this year and three Hypo-Meeting (combined events championship) titles to her name.
“Looking back I couldn’t have done anything better I don’t think. I did my best at everything and ended up with a bronze medal and I think you have to be satisfied with that.”
A satisfied Olympian and a grateful nation with its first ever Olympic medal in the heptathlon.