World Championships 2013: No medal for 'new Ennis,' but Katarina Johnson-Thompson shows she is here to stay
After missing bronze by just 28 points, she has a bright future to come
the Luzhniki Stadium
Tuesday 13 August 2013
In the end, there wasn't the medal that Britain has grown accustomed to in the heptathlon but then again the name in question was not one the wider public was too accustomed to either.
Jessica Ennis-Hill was back at home, watching and nursing her sore Achilles, as her potential double-barrelled successor Katarina Johnson-Thompson came agonisingly close to winning a bronze medal, a mere 28 points in fact. Come the end of seven gruelling events, in which she recorded four personal bests, she had to make do with fifth overall.
This was the girl that had delighted the crowds at London 2012 as she walked into the Olympic Stadium beaming her bright smile, lapping up the big stage, like the Kat that got the cream. Her 15th place, when she had predicted to come last there, was an astonishing achievement. Here she had targeted the top eight and again over-achieved.
The crowds may have lessened but the smile broke out again on the start line of the seventh and final event, the 800m, but this a nervous one as the 20-year-old Liverpudlian pondered the permutations required to win bronze.
She needed both the brawn of an athlete and the brain of a mathematician to unpick the points differences between herself in fifth place and the rivals around her. To win a medal, she had to stay within 0.41 seconds of Germany's Claudia Rath, 2.92 seconds ahead of Dafne Schippers and two seconds in front of Antoinette Nana Djimou.
The only problem was that, while Johnson-Thompson, once good enough for an audition at the Royal Ballet School, was fleet-footed enough to produce her best two laps of the track of her career, so too did Schippers and Rath, leaving Johnson-Thompson just shy of a medal.
Afterwards, she said: "I'm knackered but I'm over the moon. Since the 200m yesterday, I've got four personal bests. But it was a bit like a rat race in the end."
She had targeted a place in the top eight, but on reflection said: "I'm a bit regretful I didn't say I could get a medal because if I had a bit of belief in myself from the start I could actually have had one. It's weird to think I can target medals if I just sort out my throws."
To get on the podium, Johnson-Thompson needs to throw further than the javelin personal best of 40.86metres set in Moscow – the leading contenders throw much further – while her shot put best of 11.52m was a lowly 31st of the 33-strong field.
There will be a modicum of thinking what might have been had she thrown longer in the shot put and cleared greater heights than 1.83metres in the high jump, six centimetres short of her personal best.
"I know I let myself down in the high jump," she said. "That's where I should have got big points. It would have been a much easier race for me in the 800m."
Johnson-Thompson is well aware that she will be compared to Ennis-Hill as she continues to clamber her way up the world order. Ennis-Hill's under-23 record proved elusive by a mere 20 points but Johnson-Thompson still has time on her side to achieve that particular mark.
Toni Minichiello, coach of the Olympic champion, was clear who can be the greater athlete. He said: "She is better than Jessica pound-for-pound. If you look at what Jess did at her age as a junior, Kat's performed better than that every single time. If she keeps going, she'll probably be better."
Not to take anything away from the young pretender but this was not a heptathlon of the highest order, missing the Olympic champion and also the world champion, Tatyana Chernova, also injured. Hanna Melnichenko's winning tally of 6,586 points was nearly 400 shy of what Ennis-Hill recorded when winning gold last summer.
That Johnson-Thompson has been able to achieve the points tally of 6,449 that she did is quite remarkable having torn the ligaments in her ankle in May. Five weeks later, she was crowned European Under-23 champion, now she can consider herself a realistic global contender.
The signs are good for the future, the prospect that Britain can realistically have two medal protagonists come the next Olympics. Johnson-Thompson gives the impression she doesn't realise how good she is, but it feels like she could well be running the show in the years to come.
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