Four years ago she was the home golden girl of the last European Championships; yesterday she avoided a qualifying-round exit by the tightest of margins. Back in 2006 Carolina Kluft was still an invincible force in the heptathlon. No one could come close to the Swede in the seven-event competition at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. She retained her continental title by a margin of 317 points, setting a championship record of 6,740 points.
In five years as senior heptathlete, Kluft was never beaten. After winning her third World Championship title, in Osaka in 2007, she decided to move on to the challenge of mastering an individual event. As a long jumper, and initially a triple jumper, the 27-year-old has been dogged by injury. She missed last year's World Championships because of a torn hamstring and has been struggling to find her stride this summer. She failed to achieve the long jump selection standard for Barcelona but was picked for the Swedish team as a wildcard.
In the qualifying round yesterday, Kluft jumped a season's best of 6.62m. With 12 places available in tonight's final, she made the cut by a whisker. She had the joint 12th best jump of the day, together with Irene Pusterla of Switzerland. Kluft got the nod on the countback rule. Her second best jump was 6.51m. Pusterla's was 6.47m.
"For me, getting to the final is a big victory," Kluft said. "It is a step ahead to my goals for next year." Those goals are getting in a solid winter of training and laying down a firm foundation in 2011 for an Olympic medal challenge in London in 2012 – as a long jumper. Kluft insists she has no intention of returning to the heptathlon to challenge the woman who has succeeded her as world No 1: Britain's Jessica Ennis.