At the Olympic Games in London 2012, Dafne Schippers would hardly have been on the radar of the sport’s fastest women. Why should she have?
At 20, she was a Dutch youngster progressing from being a world and European junior heptathlon champion, now mixing with the senior stars across seven disciplines.
Four years on, the story could not be more different.
The excitement and tension is slowly building in Rio towards this Friday and the start of the track and field programme at these Games of the XXXI Olympiad. Athletes are arriving daily at the village from training camps across Brazil, others are there already, soaking up the atmosphere and roaring on teammates from other sports.
And in the Dutch apartments, Schippers does not have to wait long now. The first round of the women’s 100m is the last event on Friday in Rio, with the final 24 hours later; by Monday morning, she will be back for the 200m.
Her moment is not far away.
Since the summer of 2014, when she broke two national records in the same afternoon in Glasgow with victories in the 100m and 200m, Schippers has transformed from being an outstanding heptathlon into a breath-taking sprinter and how her life has changed.
“It’s a new world now,” she says. “When I walk on the street people know me, they talk to me, they ask for photos. It’s all fun. It was difficult after the worlds because it was new. It’s normal now and I can handle that.”
The ‘worlds’ she is talking about was last summer’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing when she won silver in the 100m in a national record of 10.81m before smashing the European 200m record as she took gold in 21.63, a performance which rubberstamped her place among the elite.
Once more in the 100m in Rio she will face Jamaica’s slick and masterful Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the Beijing champion who is seeking a hat-trick of Olympic titles, while in the 200m…the rest have to worry about this Utrecht-born athlete who was sixth in the heptathlon in 2012.
While she’s unlikely to return to the seven events, Schippers thrives on using her background from the heptathlon for the busy week ahead.
“In the heptathlon, you are always tired, your body and your mind is tired after the first day. That is good to know when you have the races, you are tired, it’s normal.
“I have learned from the heptathlon to stay relaxed during those moments. I know I can run fast. I don’t need to be very good in my mind. All the training in the heptathlon over the last few years has been good for my sprints. My body reacted well to the training.
“I don’t think I will go back to the heptathlon. I am in a new life now.”
Those exploits in Glasgow in 2014 – when she ran 11.03 for the 100m and 22.34 for the 200m – came a year after she had won the 100m at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Tampere.
The signs were there. Later in 2014, she won the European 100m and 200m titles before her Beijing glory and this year, it is double gold so far, with her 100m and 4x100m triumphs in Amsterdam.
Not since French star Marie-José Perec won 200m gold in Atlanta 1996 has a European woman made the Olympic podium in the event, and when Belarusian Yulia Nestsiarenka won the 100m in Athens 2004, she was the first European woman to land that title since 1980.
Equally, Fanny Blankers-Koen is the only Dutchwoman to win a 100m medal, with her memorable gold in London in 1948 when she also took the 200m (along with the 80m hurdles and 4x100m relay), while the last woman sprinter from their nation to make the Olympic top three was Bertha Brouwer, the 1952 200m silver medallist.
History is in the air as Schippers enters the Rio Games as the world’s quickest woman this year in the 200m (21.93) and sixth on a 100m list (10.83) led by Jamaican Elaine Thompson (10.70), while Fraser-Pryce’s quickest is 10.93.
And she is ready.
“The pressure is very high,” says Schippers. “But not for me. I give myself more pressure than people put on me.”