The heptathlon at the World Track and Field Championships in Budapest last Sunday came down to the seventh and final event, the 800-meter run. It quickly became a head-to-head test of will between Anna Hall, who grew up in Greenwood Village, and Katarina Johnson-Thompson of Great Britain.
And it was a duel for the ages.
Hall, who won the gold medal at the U.S. Track and Field Championships last month and came within 12 points of becoming only the fifth woman ever to reach 7,000 points in a heptathlon when she won the prestigious Hypo-Meeting in Gotzis, Austria last May, needed to beat Johnson-Thompson by about 2.5 seconds in Sunday’s race to claim the gold medal.
Despite a knee injury suffered two weeks earlier while training for this heptathlon, she led the entire way and finished in 2:04.09.
But Johnson-Thompson—making a stirring comeback from a career-threatening Achilles rupture shortly after she won the 2019 world heptathlon gold medal, doggedly chased Hall twice around the oval.
In the end, the British champion had run the fastest 800 of her career—2:05.63. Beating her previous personal best of 2:07.26, set in 2019, put her 1.54 behind Hall. With that, she finished with 6,740 points to Hall’s 6,720.
The 20-point final difference was the closest in world heptathlon history.
“I went for it—very bittersweet,” Hall was quoted in a Team USA story afterward.
“I really wanted gold, and fought my heart out. Kat was just better today. I got beat, and I just have to take that and use it for motivation next year.”
That “next year” includes the Summer Olympics in Paris, where Hall is sure to be a medal contender.
But she’ll be in a very competitive field that will include not only Johnson-Thompson and bronze medalist Anouk Vetter of The Netherlands but also Belgium’s Nafi Thiam, who missed this year’s World Championships to avoid aggravating her own troublesome Achilles.
Thiam is the only woman besides Hall’s mentor, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to win the heptathlon twice at both the Olympics and the World Championships. In addition to this year’s bronze at Worlds, Vetter took the silver last year.
For the record, here are Hall’s performances in the seven events (finish in parentheses):
- 110-meter hurdles: 12.97 seconds (2nd)
- High jump: 1.83 meters (3rd)
- Shot put: 14.54 meters (3rd)
- 200-meter dash: 23.56 seconds (2nd)
- Long jump: 6.19 meters (5th)
- Javelin throw: 44.88 meters (10th)
- 800-meter run: 2:04.09, i.e. 2 minutes 4.19 seconds (1st)
“Honestly, I think the only thing that was up to my standards were the shot put and the 800,” she said. “Everything could have gone better, but that’s what championships are.”
With Thiam sidelined, Hall was the favorite heading into this year’s world heptathlon. So not winning gold is no doubt a disappointment. But, some perspective is called for.
Most significant is that knee injury, sustained from a slip on the long jump board.
“I hyperextended my knee, had a little bit of a PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) injury and bone bruise—not ideal two weeks out from the world championships,” she said. “We did everything we could, through all the treatments and rehabs, and I thought I was ready to go.”
And the silver medal, it should be noted, is a step forward, expectations notwithstanding. Hall claimed the bronze last year.
“It was exceeding everyone’s and my expectations to get a bronze (last year),” she said. “And this year, we’re disappointed with silver. I think that says a lot about how far we’ve come.”
There’s also the matter of experience. Hall is 22, Johnson-Thompson 30.
“It’s so fun to see her grow,” says teammate Chari Hawkins, who at 32 finished eighth with a personal best score of 6,366. “Anna Hall is a generational talent. I said to her as soon as she crossed the finish line, ‘Babe, you’re going to break the world record.’”
Joyner-Kersee, now 61, set the heptathlon world record while winning gold at the Olympic Games in Seoul 35 years ago. Her total was 7,291.
“It’s not if, it’s when,” Hawkins assures.
David and Ronette Hall were in Budapest to watch the competition.
“We are so proud of Anna, the way she fought through adversity,” said her mother. “She gave everything she had.”
Chari Hawkins’ comment suggests Anna has more time to grow. And Anna agrees.
“I’m still young,” she said. “We’re going to keep climbing.”
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at firstname.lastname@example.org.