One of the faces of British athletics, Katarina Johnson-Thompson had appeared ideally placed to star at Tokyo 2020. The 28-year-old has emerged from humble beginnings on the Netherley estate on Merseyside to become Great Britain’s latest golden heptathlon hope, but a cruel injury blow left Johnson-Thompson battling to even make the Olympics. Her achilles injury may have since dimmed her gold medal hopes but Johnson-Thompson is a battler who has fought to become a star from unspectacular beginnings on the Netherley estate on Merseyside. On the basis of recent form a medal would be a remarkable achievement but Johnson-Thompson has always had the capacity to surprise.
The last time Johnson-Thompson competed at a major championships she held exhausted arms aloft in victory after taking a spectacular gold medal at the World Championships in Doha in 2019, setting four personal bests on her way to beating a potential all-time great in reigning champion Nafi Thiam.
That gave Johnson-Thompson plenty of momentum moving towards a reigniting of their rivalry with a fully-fit Thiam at Tokyo 2020, but the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent news of a year’s delay for the Olympics proved a bitter blow for the 28-year-old.
“When it got announced that the Olympics were going to be postponed, it was like my whole motivation and energy to get up and do what I normally do each day started to fade away week by week,” Johnson-Thompson told the 22 Voices podcast.
For Johnson-Thompson, disaster then struck. In December of last year the heptathlete ruptured an achilles, a serious injury from which she is still working her way back. Indeed until recently Johnson-Thompson was regarded as a real doubt for Tokyo, with the heptathlon’s seven events so demanding on the lower body.
Johnson-Thompson has made it, and will now look to continue Team GB’s great tradition in her discipline. Great Britain have figured on the Olympics heptathlon podium at every Games since Atlanta 1996.Denise Lewis followed bronze in Atlanta with victory at Sydney 2000, while Kelly Sotherton took home two bronzes from the Athens and Beijing Olympics.
Jessica Ennis-Hill then famously claimed gold on “Super Saturday” at the Olympic Stadium in 2012, before taking silver behind Thiam in Rio de Janeiro four years later.
Before injury, Johnson-Thompson would have been a virtual certainty to continue the string of success and contend for a gold medal. Yet Johnson-Thompson does not yet quite appear back to full strength after her achilles rupture, finishing eighth in the long jump at the Diamond League meeting in Gateshead in July.
The heptathlete believes the issue is now mental rather than physical and confident she will be right for the start of the Olympics heptathlon on 4 August, though another below-par showing in her final Olympics warm-up in France recently suggest Johnson-Thompson is a little way from being fuly prepared
“I felt good. The distance wasn’t great unfortunately but I have three weeks to get in the best shape for Tokyo,” Johnson-Thompson said after competing in Gateshead.
“I need to focus on my technique instead of trying to think about my achilles. I feel 100% fit and that was the first time I’ve gone off that run‑up since Doha. I know my body can handle it, I just need to think what to do when I actually take off now.
“My goals remain the same: to get to the start line confident and healthy, and I am slowly getting there.”
Johnson-Thompson was born in Liverpool and is a lifelong fan of Jurgen Klopp’s side, but now splits her time between the city and Montpellier in the south of France. Boyfriend Andrew Pozzi is a former European indoor 110m hurdles champion and will compete over the distance in Tokyo for Team GB, while actress Jodie Comer is a childhood friend.
The renewal of her duel with Thiam had looked to be one of the most intriguing stories of the Olympics. Having previously spoken publicy about her struggles with “impostor syndrome”, Johnson-Thompson’s triumph in the Doha heat was a landmark performance from which to build, with the athlete herself feeling she had more to give ahead of the potential battle with the Belgian, who had been troubled by an elbow issue at the World Championships.
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