A look back at the heptathlon at the IAAF World Championships

Ramona Neubert, who was then the world record-holder, had never been beaten prior to the inaugural championships in 1983.

She started slowly in Helsinki and was only ninth after the high jump, but the best shot (15.38m) and 200m (23.27) put her ahead overnight and a solid final day gave her gold with 6714 points, which would be adjusted to 6770 on the adjusted tables used since 1984.

East Germany gained a clean sweep of the medals. Britain’s Judy Livermore had led after a 1.92m high jump but faded back thereafter and had three no-throws in the javelin.

Jackie Joyner withdrew after modest performances in the first four events but, with a second-barrel name of Kersee, was a totally different athlete when she competed in Rome in 1987 as world record-holder, for example, throwing three metres further in the shot.

She was a class apart of the opposition and a 12.91 hurdles and 1.90m high jump helped her to a first day world record score of 4256 points. A championship individual record of 7.14m in the long jump meant she stayed well ahead of world-record schedule, but she struggled in the heat in the last few events and effectively missed the record by two seconds with her 800m as she scored 7128. The opposition was left 564 points behind.

The American won the long jump in Tokyo in 1991 and was on course for heptathlon gold after a 1.91m high jump.
However, she pulled up in the 200m with a hamstring injury and had to retire.

China’s Zhu Yuquing surprisingly led overnight but faltered badly with a 5.88m long jump and ended up just 12th.
Sabine Braun went ahead with a 6.67m long jump and ended up winning easily with 6672 points. Irina Belova moved from seventh to third with her 2:05.23 800m.

Britain’s Clova Court was up and down, the latter including a 1.55m high jump and the ups a 55.30m javelin and she was 16th.

Joyner-Kersee won a record fourth world title and second heptathlon gold in Stuttgart 1993, but her winning margin was more than 500 points down on Rome as she was pushed all the way by Braun, who had been 1500 points down on her in Italy!

The world record-holder started well with a 12.89 hurdles but lost the lead to Braun’s 1.91m high jump, which the German increased in the shot, but JJK edged ahead after the 200m. She increased it with a 7.04m long jump, but Braun’s response was a 53.44m javelin and effectively just half a second separated them prior to the 800m, which the American was superior in and won by 40 points.

The defending champion didn’t start Gothenburg in 1995 after a poor long jump final and 1994 world No.1 Heike Drechsler pulled out after the shot because of spiking herself in the high jump, while Braun injured herself in the latter event too and also withdrew on the first day.

Ghada Shouaa had been 24th in Tokyo and failed to finish in Stuttgart and she started poorly in Sweden with a 14.11 in the hurdles for 24th. She moved up to second overnight but seemed destined for silver until a huge 54.92m javelin throw was almost 14 metres better than the then leader Svetlana Moskalets. She ended up winning gold by 76 points with a score of 6651 to take Syria’s first ever medal.

Denise Lewis was seventh and she improved that to second in Athens in 1997.

She performed notably better in every event but was generally not quite able to match Braun, who was competing in her 50th heptathlon. The German won by 85 points.

In Seville in 1999, Lewis started badly with a 13.61 hurdles and trailed Eunice Barber, who started sensationally with a 12.89 hurdles and 1.93m high jump. The Briton’s 16.12m PB shot compared to Barber’s paltry 12.37m then put her ahead.

However, the French woman who had originally competed for Sierra Leone had the edge in the remaining four events. She therefore won with a national record 6861 with Lewis just missing her British record after a well below par javelin throw.

Olympic champion Shouaa was third and Lewis won in Sydney 2000, but withdrew from Edmonton in 2001 due to a stomach disorder.

Barber started sensationally in Canada with a 12.78 hurdles but had three no-throws in the shot. In her absence, gold went to Yelena Prokhorova, who won with 6694 points, courtesy of a strong second day.

Paris in 2003 saw world junior and world indoor champion Carolina Kluft make it a world triple.

The 20-year-old Swede trailed Barber in the hurdles, but was superior in the other six events. With consistent performances throughout she went third all-time with a score of 7001 points and was well received by the French crowd despite pushing Barber to second. Lewis finished fifth.

In Helsinki in 2005, Kluft, who was short of her best due to an ankle injury, and Barber were a closer match.

Barber, in her seventh world championships, built up a big lead in the first two events but lost most of it in the shot, though she led by two points overnight. Kluft’s 6.87m long jump put her ahead and the Swede held on to win by 63 points. Britain’s Kelly Sotherton was third until a 33.09m javelin and that medal was eventually won by Margaret Simpson, who moved from tenth to third courtesy of a Ghanaian record of 56.36m despite being just 53kg.

Though only aged just 24, Kluft won her third world title in Osaka in 2007 with a European record 7032, setting a championship best 1.95m in the high jump.

Sotherton threw even less in the javelin, but a strong 800m moved her into third. Jess Ennis, who had led after a 12.97 hurdles, moved into fourth.

Ennis was superior to Sotherton in five of the seven events but had lost a lot of ground in the shot and long jump.

Ennis was an improved athlete by Berlin in 2009 and won easily in a PB. She was comfortably the best in the hurdles (12.93), high jump (1.92m) and 200m (23.25).

Olympic champion Natalya Dobrynska was fourth.

In Daegu in 2011, Ennis was on for a similar score until a poor 39.95m javelin throw lost her 300 points compared to Tatyana Chernova’s 52.95 and, though she had been superior in five events and close in the long jump, the Russian ultimately won by 129 points with a score of 6880. Chernova later failed a drugs test.

Moscow in 2013 was a close contest but the poorest score in world championships history as Ganna Melnichenko won by 56 points with 6586. Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Dafne Schippers took the other medals.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson finished a close fifth and a poor shot put of 11.52m probably cost her a medal.


Year | Winner | Mark | GB position and mark
1983 Ramona Neubert (GDR) 6714 Judy Livermore dnf
1987 Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) 7128 9 Kim Hagger 6167
1991 Sabine Braun (GER) 6672 16 Clova Court 6022
1993 Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) 6837 Clova Court dnf
1995 Ghada Shouaa (SYR) 6651 7 Denise Lewis 6299
1997 Sabine Braun (GER) 6739 2 Denise Lewis 6654
1999 Eunice Barber (FRA) 6861 2 Denise Lewis 6724
2001 Yelena Prokhorova (RUS) 6694 Denise Lewis dns
2003 Carolina Kluft (SWE) 7001 5 Denise Lewis 6254
2005 Carolina Kluft (SWE) 6867 5 Kelly Sotherton 6325
2007 Carolina Kluft (SWE) 7032 3 Kelly Sotherton 6510
2009 Jess Ennis (GBR) 6731 (2 Jennifer Oeser (GER) 6493)
2011 Tatyana Chernova (RUS) 6880 2 Jess Ennis 6751
2013 Ganna Melnichenko (UKR) 6586 5 Katarina Johnson-Thompson 6449

Points (8 for 1st etc)
1 GER 101
2 GBR 54
3 USA 43
4 RUS 36
5 UKR 32
6 FRA 30
7 POL 25
8 SWE 24
9 BLR 23
10= URS 19
10= LTU 19

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