Careers for athletes are not linear equations. They have highs, lows, and sometimes, plateaus. Stuart Weir, the senior writer for Europe,  helps us put Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s trials and tribulations in perspective. She just defended her CG title from Gold Coast 2018. 

KJT Moving in the right direction

Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s victory in the Commonwealth Games with 6,377 points will not exactly have her rivals on the world stage quaking, but it represents good news and hopefully brings to an end a difficult period in her career.  In 2019, she won the world championship in Doha with 6,981 points, finally fulfilling the promise which had seen her come close at previous championships where she had not quite managed to deliver across all disciplines.

Katrina Johnson-Thompson, photo by World Athletics

I wrote in 2019: “In 2018, KJT was World Indoor and Commonwealth Champion as well as European silver medallist. She has had the potential to medal at a global event for some time, but it just never quite worked out.  In the 2015 World Championships, she was in second place when she had three fouls in the long jump – her strongest event. For the record, she disputed one of the fouls, which was certainly marginal at best.  She was sixth in the Rio Olympics and fifth in the 2017 World Championships, let down by a poor high jump, another of her really strong events”.

In 2016, she made a brave decision to leave Mike Holmes, who had coached her since 2008, to join Bertrand Valcin’s group in Southern France partly because she wanted to train alongside Kevin Mayer. When Valcin accepted a senior role with French Track and Field, his contract precluded coaching any athletes other than French, leaving KJT without a coach. She opted for Petros Kyprianou in Florida, only for that relationship to end abruptly this season. Recently she returned to the UK, where she now divides her time between Loughborough and her native Liverpool, saying that the environment in the USA “just wasn’t working for me out there, which is a shame. But ultimately, I have to do what’s right for me, and I believe this is what it is.”

Katrina Johnson-Thompson, heptathlon, photo by World Athletics

She ruptured an Achilles tendon in late 2020, recovering sufficiently to make the Olympics but ruining any real hope she had of adding an Olympic title to her resume.  In the Tokyo Olympics, she was unable to finish the competition, pulling up in the 200m.

Speaking to the British media before Oregon, she said: “It’s difficult because the Achilles rupture was on my left ankle, which is my take-off leg for high jump and long jump. “High jump, I don’t feel like it’s been too affected; I’ve still got spring there because you just stick your leg out. But the long jump is the main point in which I’m finding it difficult to get back to those long jumps, which ultimately put together a big score for me.

Katerina Johnson-Thompson, photo by England Athletics

“That being said, the heptathlon can be put together in so many different ways. I feel like my speed is back, and I hope with age comes good power in the shot put and the javelin as well. If certain events get stronger, I could be close. But I’m realistic about what I can do right now. I’m not striving for 7,000 points this year; it’s the 2018 mentality where I just want to get the performances out and get the medals, rather than the points.”

Comparing the 2022 version with 2019, she said: “I’ve been working so hard, and this is the longest run I’ve had with no injury leading into a championship for as long as I can remember, but as always, we’ll see. It’s a sport; you never know. That’s where my head’s at right now.

Katerina Johnson-Thompson defended her CG heptathlon, photo by England Athletics

“Going into Doha [2019], I felt like I was in the best shape of my life; I was consistently putting things together in training and in competition. I did have confidence in my ability.

Right now, it’s been shifted to the fact that I have a new coach. Different points are taking priority right now. I feel like it’s definitely a different mindset, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t get a good score.

“As athletes, we adapt, and we change under the circumstances. Success is something that is individual to each person, and success for me would be getting a good score out this summer, doing the two competitions, and being proud of what I’ve put out. I’m definitely in a different mindset. I’m a completely different athlete.”

Her three heptathlons this year have been:

Götzis seventh 6174

World Championships eighth 6222

Commonwealth first 6377

She is moving in the right direction, and as she said this week: “Hopefully, this will be a stepping stone for me like it was in 2018, and we’ll hope for better things next year”.

Katerina Johnson-Thompson, photo by England Athletics
  • Since 2015, Stuart Weir has written for RunBlogRun. He attends about 20 events a year including all most global championships and Diamond Leagues. He enjoys finding the quirky and obscure story.

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