The yellow and blue clad Ukrainian supporters massed in the main stand of the Luzhniki Stadium made all the difference to their heptathlete Hanna Melnychenko as she knocked three seconds off her best time in the concluding 800m to win gold ahead of the athlete she tracked throughout, Brianne Theisen Eaton.
“It is always tough to win,” said Melnychenko. “It was hard, but now all the difficulties are behind and there is only joy left. I didn’t prepare well for these championships. It just came together for me, thank God.
“It was inspiring for me to hear the support of the crowd, and particularly during the 800m when I most needed it.”
Asked if she felt she could keep in touch with Eaton, who had an 800m personal best more than three seconds better than hers, Melnychenko responded: “As a matter of fact I wasn’t quite sure because Brianne is a really tough fighter; but I really wanted to win.
“I understood that you don’t get this chance every day so I knew my tactic would be just to watch her back all the way through, that was my strategy, and it really worked out well for me.”
Commenting on the double medal success which she and her husband Ashton Eaton, who won the Decathlon title on Sunday and who she married last month, had achieved, Theisen Eaton said:
“It’s pretty cool. I think I heard a few times that no husband and wife had ever won medals in the Decathlon and Heptathlon like we have, so this is a first.
“I think it really helped to have him (Ashton Eaton) here because, at this meet, it was really the first time he was able to sit and watch the whole competition. The really helpful thing I found was that my coach was having to give me tips during the events, concentrating on more technical aspects, but Ashton would come down… he would call right out ‘C’mon Brianne! Let’s go! You can do this!’
“In between the two days when I’d complain of being tired and not getting enough sleep he would tell me ‘It’s nothing, You are not tired. It’s just a fake feeling. You’ll be fine.’ And he always says, in the Decathlon we get way less sleep and we do three more events, so quit complaining.’ So he is really helpful!
“How do we relax? I watch netflix and he plays video games. When we go away we try to get away from track and field and be normal people. It’s nothing special. We feel like normal people, I guess we just try to keep grounded and humble.
“My high school coach told me I should do it because I was just kind of average at four of the events, and so if I did the Heptathlon it would work for me. For me, the event changes depending on what’s going on, but if I had to name an event which I normally enjoy it would be the Javelin.
Former World junior champion Dafne Schippers, who collapsed over the line after taking a massive seven seconds off her personal best – reducing it from 2:15.52 to 2:08.62 in a race where the top eight all achieved new bests – said she did not know if she had done enough to hang on to the bronze medal position which the Dutch woman had held by a margin of just 11 points before the concluding 800m.
“I knew I could run faster in the 800 metres, and that I would fight for a medal,” said Schippers. “But after the line, I just felt pain. It was really hard. But then when you run 2:15 at the end of a Heptathlon it is also hard! I didn’t know if I had won a medal, I just had to wait and look up to the scoreboard, and then I saw that I have done it.”
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF