Twelve months ago in Rio de Janeiro, after lying despondent on the side of the track for some time, Dafne Schippers got up, took off her spikes and flung them to one side in frustration.
As the third fastest 200m runner in history, she was expected to add the Olympic title to the gold medal she won at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, but defeat to Jamaican Elaine Thompson left her irritated and confused. Her ambitions were lofty and silver was no longer good enough for the Dutch woman.
“There’s been a bit more pressure on me to perform since winning in Beijing,” she said. “A lot of that pressure is put on me by myself as I always want to win regardless of what I’ve done before.”
Fast forward one year, and the 25-year-old is back on top of the world. In claiming the 200m title at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 on Friday night, Schippers became the first European to win two gold medals over the half-lap distance, and joins Jamaican Merlene Ottey and USA’s Allyson Felix as the only athletes to successfully defend a world title in the event.
“It’s a great feeling to be world champion for the second time,” she said. “I was a bit nervous beforehand, but I’m a final runner, and bring my best in finals, so I’m very grateful for the experience today. There were so many Dutch fans in the stadium, all wearing orange. To win this two times in a row is brilliant.”
With Olympic Champion Elaine Thompson opting not to contest the 200m at these championships, Schippers’ main challenge came from Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou, who finished ahead of the Dutch woman in the 100m five days earlier. On this occasion the roles were reversed with Schippers edging a close race in 22.05 seconds, just 0.03 ahead of Ta Lou.
“During the first 100m I could not see anybody because I was in lane six and was in front of the rest,” she said. “Once I hit the straight I saw Ta Lou right there to my left and I just had to fight as much as possible to the finish line to stay ahead of her. I knew she’d be a tough competitor. She ran a very good 100m earlier in the championships, so I’m very happy to manage to beat her today.”
After her defeat in Rio, Schippers opted for a change. With Bart Bennema as her coach, she had transitioned from a world-class heptathlete, winning bronze in the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013, into a multi-medal-winning 100m and 200m sprinter. However they both felt that to progress, she had to try something different, and so she joined up with Rana Reider, and his group containing Christian Taylor, Adam Gemili and Desiree Henry among others.
“It was not the easiest season for me,” she said. “When you change coach everything is different. I changed a lot in my training and I worked very hard this season.”
Working with Reider, the focus was purely on peaking for London. As a result she entered races on the IAAF Diamond League circuit this year during periods of heavy training, and her times early season were slower than she is used to running.
“I just had to trust the process and that I would eventually progress. I believed in my coach and I just did what he said. He’s a great coach and I couldn’t be happier with how everything has turned out.”
While she’s a fearless competitor on the track, away from the high-pressured arena of elite athletics she cuts a much more reserved figure, preferring a simple life of walking her dog and reading, rather than higher adrenaline interests. However, since her first world title in Beijing two years ago, she has found it much harder, back home in the Netherlands, to live the normal quiet life she craves.
“Since Beijing it’s been totally different,” she says. “When I walk on the streets people want to get photos or autographs. It has become a lot more normal for me now, but at the beginning it was difficult to deal with that. But at the same time, it’s also really cool because it means I’ve done a great job.”
Her performances over the past few years have not gone unappreciated in her home country. In April of this year, a new pedestrian and cycle bridge, named after her, was opened in her home city of Utrecht. One hundred and 10 metres long, it crosses the Amsterdam Rijn Canal, connecting the city centre with the growing suburbs and serves approximately 11,000 cyclists per day.
“To have a bridge named after me is a very special thing,” she says. “It’s the most important bridge in our country. It’s very special to have my name on that.”
After her success in London, they may need to rename of the canal too.
James Sullivan for the IAAF