Which of the following statements best describes the great Dutch athlete Dafne Schippers?
For a heptathlete, she’s a superb sprinter.
For a sprinter, she’s a pretty good heptathlete.
Take your pick. Each statement is equally true when talking about the 23-year-old, who over the last two years made a stunning transition from multi-event athlete to star sprinter. Perhaps only her coaches saw such potential in her.
In 2013, Schippers posted her best score in the heptathlon with 6,477 points in winning the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu. Two years later she’s suddenly the best combo sprinter in the world after taking silver at 100 meters in 10.81 seconds and gold at 200m in 21.63 at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing. Both times represent substantial personal bests: .22 in the 100 and .40 in the 200.
By way of explaining her rapid rise in the sprints, Schippers said speed always played a big part in her multi-event competitions.
“Sprinting absolutely matters in the heptathlon,’’ she said in an e-mail exchange with TrackTown USA. “Almost half the heptathlon, the 100 hurdles, the 200 meters and even the long jump requires a high-level sprint ability. These events have always been my strong parts.’’
Schippers will need to be fast out of the blocks if she hopes to contend for a medal in the 60 meters at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016. As the biggest elite sprinter in the world at 5 feet, 10 1⁄2 inches (1.79m) and 150 pounds (68kg), the “Dashing Dutchwoman” continues to work on her start, in much the same way that Usain Bolt (6-5/1.96m) works on his get-offs.
“Until the last indoor season, the start has not been the strongest part of my race,’’ Schippers said. “But last season my start improved a lot. I ran a few personal bests, achieved the European indoor title and finished the season with 7.05 for the 60. I worked very hard on my start in the last month. During that time my start really improved.’’
Although she’s built more for success outdoors, Schippers said she enjoys running indoors for the intimacy it provides for fans and athletes alike.
“The audience is very close to the track,’’ she noted. “I like the show elements like music between the races and light effects. Looking back over the years, a successful indoor season has always been a perfect warmup for the following outdoor season.’’
The coming outdoor season culminates with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where, health willing, Schippers will take a shot at sweeping the 100 and 200 meters and running a leg on the Netherlands’ 4x100m relay team, which last year recorded the No. 8 time in the world, 42.32.
“I hope for a great Olympic season,’’ Schippers said. “I will do my very best for it.’’
At any Olympics, summer or winter, orange- clad Dutch athletes and their boisterous fans always seem to enjoy themselves more than those from other countries.
“I am happy to hear that,’’ Schippers said. “Yes, we always have a great time on our national team.’’
The Dashing Dutchwoman herself had a great time in 2015.
In addition to her silver and gold medals at the World Championships, she capped off her season by beating Allyson Felix of the United States in the 200m at the Diamond League final in Brussels. She ran 22.12 to Felix’s 22.22.
“Brussels was the perfect finish of the season,’’ Schippers said. “Due to the fact that Allyson didn’t compete over the 200 meters in Beijing, I was absolutely looking forward to that particular race. My first race against Allyson was in a heat during the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. I ran a new personal best in 22.69 and won real close to 22.71 by Allyson. At the end I missed the final by one place and Allyson came in with a bronze medal. At the age of 19, it was a great experience for me. Since then, it has always been very special to compete against Allyson.’’
Four years on, Schippers has shed the skin of a heptathlete to emerge as a new creature entirely. Stunning.