By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Flying Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers is a strong contender to emulate compatriot Fanny Blankers-Koen’s golden sprint double from 1948 at next month’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics after a dramatic switch from heptathlon to concentrate on the sprints.
Blankers-Koen won both the 100-200 meters at the London Games after World War Two as well as the 80m hurdles and then anchored the Dutch in the 4×100 relay.
The tall Schippers, she stands 1.79m (5’10”), always had the potential to be a top sprinter after a record breaking junior career but instead concentrated on the heptathlon.
While good enough to clinch bronze in the heptathlon at the 2013 world championships in Moscow, she abandoned the grueling multi-discipline event to concentrate on the sprints after the 2014 European championships in Zurich.
Having entered just the sprints to satisfy her own curiosity, she surprised many with winning times of 11.12 in the 100 and 22.03 in the 200 — the second fastest time of the year behind London Olympic champion Allyson Felix.
“There was no way I could have thought that was possible,” said Schippers.
After that, the decision was made to concentrate on just two events and her times since have steadily got quicker.
She is highly fancied to win the 200 meters in Brazil after success at last year’s world championships in Beijing and having recorded the best time of 2016 with 21.93 in Oslo at the start of June.
But gold in the 100 is also on the agenda for the 24-year-old after she finished runner-up in the blue riband event in Beijing.
Schippers has discounted her chances in the shorter sprint because of her height, which inhibits her ability to explode out of the blocks.
“The 200 is a little bit better for me because my start is not very good,” she said.
Her rivals, however, will not be fooled by that given how last year in Beijing she powered through the last half of the race to almost catch Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 100 final.
The success, however, has a down side as it has catapulted Schippers, who also writes a food blog and creates recipes, somewhat uncomfortably into the spotlight.
“My world has changed somewhat in recent times,” she said in a recent interview. “Everything I do now is news, everyone has an opinion about me.
“It has been hard and sometimes tiresome. It has taken a while to find my way in all of that.”
Despite the extra attention, she said her focus was firmly fixed on Rio with “a crazy desire to succeed”.
“I’m really relaxed, I’m not nervous about it,” she said.
“Training has gone well and my goal for Rio is to go for the medals.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)