21 OCT 2000 General News

Carolina – the complete all-round talent

Carolina – the complete allround talent
Lennart Julin for the IAAF

22 October 2000 - "I knew that I was regarded as a medal contender, but a world championships is something very special and anything can happen. It was here and now that counted, previous accomplishments had no significance.

"I was really nervous before the second day, so I decided to just try to enjoy myself. But it wasn’t until just five meters remained of the 800 that I knew for sure that I would win!"

Those were the first comments from the jubilant 17-year-old world junior champion in the heptathlon, Carolina Klüft, after finishing her two strenuous days of competition in the Estadio Nacional with a convincing victory in the concluding 800m race. But of course the climb to the top position of the victory podium in Santiago begun much earlier than with the Friday morning hurdles race.

It probably was inevitable that Carolina would become involved in sports as her father Johnny was a first division soccer player and her mother Ingalill a national class long jumper (personal best 6.09). Living in the city of Växjö most likely also contributed to Carolina’s choice of path, because Växjö is one of the true "athletic hubs" in Sweden:

The newly crowned world junior champion "Carro" is actually the fifth athlete from local club IFK Växjö to compete in the World Junior Championships. She is following in the footsteps of 1500m-runner Anette Karlsson (7th in 1986), pole vaulter Peter Widén (finalist 1986) and 100m-runners Linda Hansson (1992) and Christopher Ohlsson (semifinalist 1996).

When Carolina at age 11 in 1994 first tried out athletics she had immediate success clearing 1.46 in the high jump. The high jump would remain her main event and she steadily improved her yearly best marks (1.56 – 1.64 – 1.73i – 1.77 – 1.83) thereby remaining among the very best in her age group nationally. Her first major international competition, the 1999 European Youth Olympic Days, ended with the HJ gold medal!

However, as the years passed Carolina also steadily enlarged her repertoire with other events: e.g. a 2.90 PV at age 14, a 12.23 TJ, a 37.16 JT and a 2:19 for 800m at age 15, a 6.13 LJ, a 24.58 for 200m and a 13.98 (76.2 cm) for 100m hurdles at age 16. It thus became increasingly apparent that her best event most likely would be a combined event, the heptathlon.

The definitive proof of that assumption came at the Swedish Youth Championships last autumn where she produced a series with 76.2 cm hurdles and 3 kg shot that could be equated to a 5.600-score with senior implements. So when she opened her 2000 season in Lerum in May the only question was by how much the national junior record of 5.538 points – set one year before Carolina was born! - would be improved.

The answer was "by almost 300 points" and the 5.810 score came despite a series that was far from "perfect". The same could be said about her 5.814 at home in Växjö a few weeks later. Actually she was just gearing up for the Nordic Championships to be held in Norway in mid-July. In the weeks leading up she scored a whole bunch of new PR’s: sprinting 11.90, hurdling 13.88/41.22, jumping 1.85 and throwing the javelin 42.05.

But then at the Nordic Championships in Geithus (Modum) disaster struck already in the first event as Carolina stumbled at the seventh hurdle. In some miraculous way she managed to stay on her feet and get into the race again. But all momentum was lost so when she reached the finish line in 17.02 all hopes of a new record score had disappeared as she had lost some 400 points!

However, Carolina herself obviously didn’t feel that everything had been lost. Rather the mishap seemed to ignite an extra competitive fire in her and she actually PR’ed at all the following five events: 1.85 (very, very close at 1.88), 11.81, 24.47 (into a headwind!), 6.23 (also into a headwind!) and 44.39! So although Carolina didn’t run all out in the concluding 800m (2:16) she ended up with a final score of 5.764, i.e. just 50 points shy of her NJR despite the costly calamity in the opening event.

Since then Carolina was preparing for an all-out heptathlon effort in Santiago. In the meantime she was honing her skills by competing in various individual events. Noticeable were the 45.71 JT at the Swedish Junior Championships and her win – over the middle distance specialists – at 800m in the Swedish School Championhips where she also contributed a storming 54-second relay leg for her school!

So Carolina Klüft was well prepared for taking on the best junior heptahletes in the world in Santiago and the outcome was memorable: Carolina’s winning score of 6.056 points was the highest in WJC heptathon since 1990 and she won by the comfortable margin of 158 points.

That despite a series that included "only" one new individual PR. But that PR then was very special as she improved in the shot put from a pre-Santiago best of 11.81 to first 12.27 – and then 13.27. Almost one and half meters! No wonder then that Carolina’s spontaneous comment was "I just got everything into that put!"

But the most remarkable fact about her winning WJC effort was that despite facing no less than 19 competitors Carolina finished in the top-3 individually in all seven events (two wins, two second places and three third places)! An astonishing demonstration of a truly complete all-round ability. The feat has definitely not been matched by any previous world junior heptathlon champion and almost certainly not by any senior world or olympic champion either.

And the combined events community should beware: Carolina is still only 17 (born 2 February 1983) so she will be eligible also for the 2002 WJC in Kingston! And should the heptathlon – as has been suggested - be turned into a decathlon in a not-too-distant future that is no scare for Carolina, as she vaulted 2.90 as a 14-year-old and as she recently did 33.96 when she just for fun threw the discus in a local meet!