Continuing our one year to go series, we take a look back at the women’s pentathlon and heptathlon events at the Olympic Games

The heptathlon and decathlon events are set to take place across the same two days at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with the heptathlon starting with the 100m hurdles at 9:35 local time on Wednesday August 4, 2021.

With exactly one year to go, we take a look back at past Olympic pentathlon and heptathlon action.



1964: 1 Irina Press URS 5246; 2 Mary Rand GBR 5035; 3 Galina Bystrova URS 4956
1968: 1 Ingrid Becker GER 5098; 2 Liese Prokop AUT 4966; 3 Annamaria Toth HUN 4959
1972: 1 Mary Peters GBR 4801; 2 Heide Rosendahl FRG 4791; 3 Burglinde Pollak GDR 4768
1976: 1 Siegrun Siegl GDR 4745; 2 Christine Laser GDR 4745; 3 Burglinde Pollak GDR 4740
1980: 1 Nadezhda Tkachenko URS 5083; 2 Olga Rukavishnikova URS 4937; 3 Olga Kuragina URS 4875


1984: 1 Glynis Nunn AUS 6390; 2 Jackie Joyner USA 6385; 3 Sabine Everts FRG 6363
1988: 1 Jackie Joyner-Kersee USA 7291; 2 Sabine John GDR 6897; 3 Anke Behmer GDR 6858
1992: 1 Jackie Joyner-Kersee USA 7044; 2 Irina Belova EUN 6845; 3 Sabine Braun GER 6649
1996: 1 Ghada Shouaa SYR 6780; 2 Natasha Sazanovich BLR 6563; 3 Denise Lewis GBR 6489
2000: 1 Denise Lewis GBR 6584; 2 Yelena Prokhorova RUS 6531; 3 Natalya Sazanovich BLR 6527
2004: 1 Carolina Kluft SWE 6952; 2 Austra Skujyte LTU 6435; 3 Kelly Sotherton GBR 6424
2008: 1 Nataliya Dobrynska UKR 6733; 2 Hyleas Fountain USA 6619; 3 Kelly Sotherton GBR 6517
2012: 1 Jessica Ennis GBR 6955; 2 Lilli Schwarzkopf GER 6649; 3 Austra Skujyte LTU 6599
2016: 1 Nafissatou Thiam BEL 6810; 2 Jessica Ennis-Hill GBR 6775; 3 Brianne Theisen Eaton CAN 6653

Olympic record: Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) 7291 points

Multiple champions: Joyner-Kersee 1988/1992

Rio 2016

Nafissatou Thiam far exceeded her own expectations and produced one of the surprises of the Games after a PB-filled two days saw the 21-year-old claim the heptathlon title with 6810 points ahead of Britain’s defending champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and Canada’s world pentathlon champion Brianne Theisen-Eaton.

Thiam, who four years earlier was placing 14th as a 17-year-old in the World Junior Championships during the same summer that Ennis-Hill won her London gold, improved her personal bests in five of the seven events to add more than 300 points to her own Belgian record and beat world champion Ennis-Hill by 35 points.

Click here to read our online report.

Most memorable

It wasn’t the best quality championship but the Montreal 1976 pentathlon was the closest major multi event in history with the biggest changes in the final event.

After four of the events, just 95 points covered the top eight:
Nadezhda Tkachenko 3788
Lyudmila Popovskaya 3772
Burglinde Pollak 3768
Diane Jones 3764
Christine Laser 3757
Margit Papp 3726
Siegrun Siegl 3718
Jane Frederick 3693

Siegrun Siegl, the world long jump record-holder at 6.99m, managed just 6.49m in her speciality and it only moved her up to seventh place with just the 200m to go. In that though she excelled and ran a time of 23.09. That gave her a total of 4745 while Christine Laser, who had been fifth, ran 23.48 and she too achieved a total of 4745 and the athletes who had started seventh and fifth had moved past everyone to the top.

The gold was decided by head-to-heads and Siegl held advantage over her East German compatriot by 3-2. World record-holder Burglinde Pollak, who had been close to gold in Munich but ended up third, was even closer in Canada. Had she run six hundredths of a second faster, she would have won gold but her 23.64 left her just five points short of her team-mates.

Nadezhda Tkachenko, who had started the event in first, found a 24.61 dropped her to fifth. She was to fare better in Moscow in 1980.

Final scores:
1 Siegl 4745
2 Laser 4745
3 Pollak 4740
4 Popovskaya 4700
5 Tkachenko 4669
6 Jones 4582
7 Frederick 4566
8 Papp 4535

Heptathlon highlights – 1984 to 2012

In 1984, Britain’s Judy Simpson led the first day though the big favourite was Jackie Joyner. The American lost to Glynis Nunn by five points which was effectively 0.33 of a second in the 800m or 3cm in the long jump.

The American’s name changed in 1988 as she was now Joyner-Kersee and she was a different athlete too. Her long jump was now an astonishing 7.27m but she also improved from 13.63 to 12.69 in the hurdles, 1.80m to 1.86m in the high jump, from 14.29m to 15.80m in the shot, from 24.05 to 22.56 in the 200m and from 2:13.03 to 2:06.51 in the 800m. The result was a still-standing world record 7291 points.

She retained her title easily in Barcelona in 1992 but was only better in the high jump where she achieved 1.91m. Her 7044 score was better than anyone else has ever achieved. Carolina Kluft, who has come closest to the American’s score, achieved the biggest ever victory in Athens in 2004 as she won by over 500 points.

Denise Lewis became the first British heptathlon winner in 2000 and Jessica Ennis got gold on Super Saturday in 2012, winning easily with a British record 6955 points.

Click here to read how the events unfolded in Ennis’ gold medal win.

Click here for a more in-depth look at the history of the women’s combined events at the Olympic Games by Steve Smythe.

» Part of this feature was first published in AW magazine in 2015 and online in 2016

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