Klüft conquers all in women’s heptathlon
Sweden's Carolina Klüft laid strong claims to being the greatest female athlete of Athens 2004, after producing a dominant victory in the heptathlon. She was also one of the most popular, with a ready smile, an encouraging word for fellow competitors, and waves for the fans in the stands.
She had announced her arrival on the world stage by winning the European title in 2002, before going on to add the world title a year later. Although only 21, Klüft was clearly the favourite in Athens, particularly as her closest rival, the French heptathlete Eunice Barber, had been ruled out with injury.
Klüft was among the leaders after the first event, clocking 13.21 seconds in the 100m hurdles. She then moved into the outright lead after producing a high jump of 1.91m. After that, her victory was never really in doubt.
The battle for silver was much tighter, with Lithuania's Austra Skujytė and Great Britain's Kelly Sotherton pushing each other hard. Sotherton held the initial advantage, but Skujytė made up plenty of points on the shot put and the javelin. Going into the final event, the 800m, Sotherton needed to beat her Lithuanian rival by four seconds to move up into silver medal position, but the latter stayed on her shoulder throughout, ensuring that the gap was only two and a half seconds at the finishing line, and keeping Sotherton onto the third step of the podium.
Up ahead, Klüft was celebrating a magnificent gold medal. Her margin of victory was more than 500 points, confirming her as the world's greatest heptathlete. Four years later, just months before she had been expected to defend her title, Klüft withdrew from the competition to concentrate instead on long jump and triple jump.