Two weeks ago, Nafi Thiam (28) announced that she is taking a different approach. The Olympic champion in the heptathlon chooses a new coach after 14 years. Michael Van der Plaetsen led his brother Thomas to a European title in the decathlon. “I’m not pushing the championships aside, but I’m also thinking about records now and want to reach the maximum of my potential. And Paris may be my last Games.”
After her surprising coach change, Nafi Thiam seemed to beckon to the US, but she is looking closer to home. Well, with Michael Van der Plaetsen she binds herself to a trainer who mainly lives and works in South Africa.
“But I’m not moving to South Africa,” laughed Thiam during a digital press moment. “I will complete longer internships there, but I will also continue to train in Liège. That will often be with Michael.”
Van der Plaetsen is no stranger to Thiam. He jumped in for a while in Tokyo when coach Roger Lespagnard was not allowed into the stadium for a short time due to a questionable corona test.
“But I didn’t make a decision based on such a short collaboration. I made inquiries with 6 to 7 coaches, then there was a selection to 3 names. I spoke extensively with them.”
“Michael will be my head coach, but I will be working with several people. I want to learn from them.”
“I was looking for a coach who was open to that. Everything will go through Michael. I have 1 coach, but I listen to more specialists.”
“I’m not pushing the championships aside, but I want records”
All in all, the change of air came like a bolt from the blue, but Nafi Thiam said she “didn’t make her decision overnight”.
“I thought about it for a long time. It was a rich collaboration, but after 14 years I want to keep learning and evolving. Working in your comfort zone is reassuring, but you evolve as a person and athlete. I wanted to work in a different way at this stage .”
“What Michael can teach me then? I won’t make comparisons. It’s no use saying what might be better or different. But maybe it’ll be less traditional, a little more modern.”
Championships remain a goal. I want to keep winning medals, but now I’m also thinking about points, scores and records.
A new or different approach, in other words, but also in terms of goals. Thiam is a two-time Olympic, world and European champion.
“Champions remain a goal. I want to keep winning medals, but now I’m also thinking about points, scores and records. I want to get as far as possible. I want to reach the maximum of my potential.”
So it looks like Thiam has set her sights on the European and world record in the all-around.
“If I want to go further, I have to find the ideal frame. In my comfort zone I wouldn’t reach that. I may not do that after this change, but I want to try it.”
“Note, I’m not putting the championships aside, but I want records. I don’t say no to medals, but I want to see where I get.”
“Paris 2024 may be the last Games, but it is not the terminus”
Nafi Thiam today labeled 2023 as a potential “year of transition”. 2024 is the big goal with the Games in Paris.
And Thiam, now 28, emphasized at length that the French capital does not have to be or even will be the final stop.
“I’m not saying my career will be over after Paris. You can be good at the Games at the same time and aim for records in the long run. It’s possible.”
“No, Paris will not be the terminus. Or so I hope. But those may be my last Games. And I also think that you don’t always have to end your career after the Olympics. I feel good anyway.”
Finally, does Thiam take a (calculated) risk? “Yes and no,” it sounded.
“You’re always scared. Maybe some would play it safe, but I don’t want to do that. I can only be honest with myself and I still have big goals.”