She’s already top of the world, but Nafi Thiam wants to be even better
The Belgian once trained in an old run-down gym, but is now honing her fitness in a state-of-the-art facility. Here, she guides us through what motivates her and why she thinks she can still improve.
There used to be a sense of dread when Nafi Thiam made her way to the gym where she trained.
By the admission of one of the world’s best athletes: “The gym was super small and super busy, with so many things in there. It was a really dark place, not so much space, and we were all packed in there… and it wasn’t smelling very good!” In short, as she puts it, “not a nice place to be and spend time”.
But the gym has been transformed with state-of-the-art equipment, giving Thiam the grounding to reclaim her spot as the world’s No.1 heptathlete.
Since mid-July, she's been working tirelessly to get herself into peak fitness and the new setup has had a big impact on her as an athlete.
She explains: "Before lockdown, I posted a video of my gym workout to my fans on Instagram. When I could go back to the indoor gym after a few months, Red Bull had totally changed it for me. It was a really big surprise. I had no idea!
“I go to the gym twice a week, usually for about three hours. Before, I had to put things in place so you’d lose 30 minutes to set up and put things back. Now, I use time with more efficiency. It’s a huge difference. The focus is always the same, but it gives a new dynamic and it’s just easier to work there.”
Before, she would have to oil the rusty bar before doing pull downs, and be conscious of not knocking the pole during squats for danger of breaking the floor.
She reveals: “Some exercise machines were a bit broken, some stuff was really even a bit dangerous. Now the machines are good quality.”
It seems an unlikely former gym in which to shape an athlete who was crowned Olympic champion in 2016 and then won World and European titles in the subsequent two seasons.
The sessions in the gym have not necessarily changed, as she “doesn’t want to confuse the body” and, interestingly, the sessions are not specific to the seven disciplines she tackles.
“You have to be a complete athlete on the track, so in the gym you have to work on the base of each discipline. You work different parts of the body; it’s not like you’re working on the specific technique of the javelin, for example. It also depends really on the time of the year – I don’t do the same all year. In winter, it’s more about trying to gain strength and in the summer it’s about preparing to be more explosive.”
The new squat rack has become a personal favourite, while she still dreads the pull downs even without the rust.
And despite having won every title imaginable in her field, she is motivated to go further still.
Of the motivation in the gym or elsewhere, she said: “It’s not really an issue for me. I can still be a much better athlete than I am now. I think I can still get better. Always, the goal is to be the best athlete I can possibly be and I know that I’ve not reached that, so my motivation is still 100 percent.
“My motivation is to be the best athlete I can be and not at all focusing on others. I have no control of what other athletes are doing. I’m trying to get to the limit that I can, be the best on every exercise so that I have no regrets and get to the championships to say 'I know I did my best', then have fun and show my best.”