Athletics

Katarina Johnson-Thompson conquers the world again

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British heptathlete who feared “blending into the background” strikes global gold for a second time after coming out on top in an outstanding multi-event battle

After finishing eighth at last year’s World Championships in Eugene, Katarina Johnson-Thompson began to fear anonymity. Of not being a factor on the global stage. Of fading away. “I thought I’d blend into the background and become one of those athletes that just made up the numbers,” she said. “That was the last thing I wanted.”

On a sultry Sunday evening in Budapest, however, the 2019 heptathlon champion conquered the world once again. “This is the best day of my life,” grinned the 30-year-old after a truly breathtaking battle with young American star Anna Hall.

Johnson-Thompson is one of the most honest athletes on the circuit and there was a frank admission that, after a multitude of setbacks, she had not expected to find herself in this position again.

That she has speaks volumes for her power of resilience. A ruptured Achilles which came during the year after her golden moment in Doha was followed by a torn calf muscle which destroyed her Olympic hopes in Tokyo and then required surgery. Each left their mark in more ways than one.

There was the brighter note of a Commonwealth title last summer but it was only slight rebound after hitting rock bottom in Oregon.

Much like she showed in Budapest on Sunday (August 20), though, there was a refusal to go quietly into the night. Instead, under the wise tutelage of coach Aston Moore a rebuilding process has been able to take hold. Bit by bit, confidence was being rediscovered, new life being breathed into a career. The competitive spirit revived.

A second-place finish at the renowned Hypomeeting in Götzis behind Hall back in May with her best heptathlon score in four years was of massive help, as were encouraging interim performances from the hand-picked events she had competed in in the lead-up to Budapest.

“All I want in this sport is to toe the line in the 800m and to have a shot,” said Johnson-Thompson. That target was certainly achieved thanks to a highly impressive start to day two of competition which put her out in front in Hungary.

The Briton had begun the day in second place on 3905 points, 93 behind Hall, but overturned the deficit by leaping out to 6.54m in the long jump – 35cm further than the American managed – before landing a PB throw of 46.14m in the javelin.

With just the 800m to go, her advantage over Hall was 43 points which equated to a buffer of around three seconds. The 22-year-old’s best was just about four seconds fastest than Johnson-Thompson, though. This was going down to the wire.

Anna Hall (Getty)

Yet, as her name was announced ahead of the final chapter, the Liverpool Harrier caught sight of herself as part of the video montage of past champions which was playing to the stadium crowd. “That really calmed me,” she said. “I had no nerves.”

Hall was sporting strapping on her left leg, the consequence of her hyperextending her knee during a long jump take-off which caused ligament problems and bone bruising. Any thoughts that her running style might be hampered, however, were quickly dispelled.

When the gun went, the US champion shot off like a woman possessed, quickly establishing a gap on Johnson-Thompson and crossing the halfway mark in a searing 58.59. She was going all in with a final roll of the dice.

Behind, there was no panic – even when that gap had grown to a distance that looked to have breached that three-second margin for error.

Just when Hall was applying the pressure at its’ fiercest, trying make her opponent bend and break, instead John-Thompson showed an inner steel and summoned every ounce of strength she had to switch the momentum and start closing in. She was still closing, in fact, as Hall hit the line first, producing a championships best of 2:04.09.

That time was ultimately not enough, though, as Johnson-Thompson delivered the run of her life to take almost two seconds off her personal best with 2:05.63 which meant she finished with a total of 6740 to beat Hall by just 20 points. Bronze went to Dutch athlete Anouk Vetter, who made it on to another major podium with 6501.

(Getty)

“That was the easiest race,” said Johnson-Thompson. “[Running] 2:12 in Götzis was harder than that. I was looking at the times, 27 [for 200m], 58 [for 400m], thinking ‘this is fast’. Normally I’d be like ‘this is fast, you’re going to die, slow down’ but I just went with it. I thought I could run 2:05 in 2019 but I didn’t think I could run it today. It’s been a dream time of mine.”

When the start of her competition on Budapest had mirrored that demoralising experience in Eugene, Johnson-Thompson admitted her head had begun to drop and the doubts had started to creep in. Things changed, though, during the 200m on day one.

“I started off this weekend with almost identical marks to Eugene and I’m just so happy that I was able to cut that rhythm off and just build and build and build,” she said. “That’s what I’m most happy with.

“I was really down after the shot put but, coming out for the 200m, I think it was the crowd [reception] but I just thought ‘I’m really up for this’.

“One of the thoughts I’ve had has been ‘don’t go out like last year’. I’m building again and just proving to myself that I can do it.”

Katarina Johnson-Thompson conquers the world again appeared first on AW.

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