Johnson-Thompson resolves to finish Olympic business

Photo of Johnson-Thompson.

“In 2022, I wasn’t in the right mental state,” Katarina Johnson-Thompson acknowledges with a transparency that matches her prowess in defying athletic conventions. “I was essentially disengaged, caught up in a victim mentality—’Why me? Why does this happen? Oh, I’m so unlucky.’ That was my mindset. I was making an effort, but my commitment to the training process wasn’t wholehearted.”

Aware that many thought she was finished, she, too, worried that her three-inch scar on the left Achilles tendon might diminish her abilities. However, after enduring three injury-laden years and surpassing the demanding age of 30, Johnson-Thompson executed a remarkable comeback, clinching her second world heptathlon championship in August.

She now once again contends for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Frankly, if personality alone were the criterion, she would be a December regular. In a sports environment saturated with rehearsed responses and tired clichés, Johnson-Thompson stands out for her unfiltered honesty—even if it entails revealing her uncertainties and vulnerabilities.

“It’s a reflection of who I am,” she asserts. “I avoid deception, which is why I chose not to give any interviews after my Achilles rupture because I didn’t want to feign normalcy. I consider myself candid and honest, perhaps even inclined to share too much. Many public figures prefer to project a facade of unwavering strength, but I haven’t encountered anyone who authentically embodies that.”

However, her strength shone through at the world championships in Budapest, particularly in the final event—the 800 meters—a confrontation so intense it could be compared to a Sergio Leone film.

Securing the gold required Johnson-Thompson to stay within three seconds of the exceptionally skilled American, Anna Hall, whose personal best was five seconds faster.

Thus began a challenging two-lap examination of the Briton’s stamina. Time and again, Hall pushed, tacitly daring her rival to give in. Yet, Johnson-Thompson clung to her tenaciously.

Two minutes and five seconds later, she completed the race just behind Hall, achieving a two-second personal best and clinching another world title. I comment on how intense it seemed, but she disagrees, shaking her head. “There wasn’t a moment where I thought, ‘Oh God, no, she’s going to win,'” she insists. “I just knew.”

Then, she reveals another aspect of the competition. “The most challenging part was actually the seven-hour wait between the end of the javelin and the starter saying ‘On your marks’ for the 800m,” she discloses. “Usually, I can sleep anywhere. In Budapest, I had sleep goggles, meditation music, and I was in a dark room. But I couldn’t relax. All I could think about were the different things that might happen. However, my coach, Aston Moore, and my team handled it perfectly. When the 800m started, I was back in the moment, back in control.”

This wasn’t the only moment of uncertainty during the world championships. There was a stumble after the 100m hurdles, and the high jump on day one didn’t go entirely as planned. “Even if everything is aligned, and you’ve had good preparation, sometimes you can talk yourself out of it on the day,” she reflects. “And I think there’s an alternate universe where that probably happened. But I am living in this one where I was able to overcome it.”

Despite being 93 points behind Hall after the first day due to a strong shot put performance and a fast 200m, Johnson-Thompson shifted into a higher gear.

“I just showed up a different person on day two,” she asserts. “I was on a mission. You can see it. Each long jump went 10cm further. Then I achieved an outright PB in the javelin and 800m. I was trying to extract everything from my performances.”

So, what changed between 2022 and 2023? Johnson-Thompson attributes her transformation to 67-year-old Moore, who took over her coaching duties last year, pushing her to full physical fitness with demanding 800m sessions in winter, occasionally resulting in bouts of vomiting. However, it took a bit longer for her mind to fully believe.

“In 2021, I could point to the injury to explain my performance. In 2022, I wasn’t motivated. However, in Götzis, I knew I was trying and injury-free. I was telling myself, ‘If this is a bad performance, I’m just a bad athlete now.’ There were no excuses. It was hard to put myself out there. In my head, I was thinking: ‘Okay, maybe I’ll never be the same. Perhaps the Achilles rupture is a career-ending injury. Maybe I was just making excuses when I said I wasn’t truly trying last year.’ Putting myself out there was the scariest thing.”

Despite the fear, she did it and reaped the rewards, including being named the female athlete of the year by the British Athletics Writers’ Association. Another award may come at Spoty on Tuesday night, although England goalkeeper Mary Earps is a strong favorite.

Regardless of the outcome, Johnson-Thompson is determined to savor the evening. She fondly recalls watching the show with her grandfather, attending in 2010, and getting photos with everyone she recognized from TV, including top sports stars and James Corden. However, in 2019, she didn’t truly celebrate as she was focused on the Tokyo Olympics, which were later canceled three months later. This time, she expresses her desire to have a “good time and live in the moment.”

Before that, she aims to persist in inspiring others through her KJT Academy, which receives support from the Liverpool Football Club Foundation, offering assistance to talented state school athletes from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

“It holds personal significance,” she observes. “Especially given the current cost of living crisis. I recognize that without support, I wouldn’t have reached London 2012, and that was the catalyst for my career.”

Naturally, her attention is already turning to Paris next year and one of the few achievements that has eluded her in her remarkable career: an Olympic medal.

This will be her fourth attempt, following an exhilarating debut in London and injury-plagued campaigns in Rio and Tokyo. She acknowledges that the competition is likely to be more intense than in Budapest, with double Olympic champion Nafi Thiam and the young Polish sensation Adrianna Sulek both expected to return from injury.

“I have unfinished business,” asserts Johnson-Thompson. “I know it’s going to be challenging, and the heptathlon is so unpredictable, so my goal is simply to reach the starting line healthy.”

Achieving that, however, can turn uncertainties into aspirations, as we all witnessed during those remarkable two days back in August.


Follow Sports 360 Degrees!

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top
Share on Social Media