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The Women's Sports Alliance


Katarina Johnson-Thompson - ‘medals mean more now’

"I've been knocked so many times and got back up, but it will take a lot of time for me to process this reality,” stated Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

She was reflecting on another major injury which had hampered another major moment in her career, but this one – at Tokyo 2020 – stung more than most.

After claiming a breakthrough World heptathlon title in 2019 she suffered a near career-ending Achilles injury the following, but after battling back KJT, as she is known to many, believed she could challenge for a maiden Olympic medal.

She was well-placed in fifth after the opening day of competition, but collapsed on the floor midway through the 200m event as her calf gave way. It was a cruel ending to her third Olympic Games.

Nearly 12 months on though she is gradually finding fitness, form and confidence ahead of what she hopes will be a golden summer.

“Subject to selection, I’ve got the World Championships and Commonwealth Games coming up,” she tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA). “After everything that’s happened, to get back (to winning) would mean even more than the first time around.”

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Johnson-Thompson has been plagued by injury struggles throughout her career, but finally delivered the performance she always dreamt of demonstrating across 2-3 October 2019.

Not only did she claim World gold after seven gruelling heptathlon disciplines, but the Olympian broke Dame Jess Ennis-Hill’s British record, which had stood since she won the London 2012 Olympic crown.

KJT, who had admitted to suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’ ahead of the event, surpassed her former team-mate’s mark of 6955 points with a new landmark total of 6981 and was in “total shock.”

“You’re out there for two days, you test every single ability; power, strength, endurance, speed and your jumping ability as well,” she tells the WSA.

“It’s the ultimate event and that’s why I love it so much because there’s nowhere to hide.

“I just felt so ready in 2019 and I don’t know whether it was because the season was so long or I was at that stage in my career where I just wanted to get out there and perform, but it was amazing to deliver in Doha.”

It was the perfect preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, which at that stage were less than a year away and justified Johnson-Thompson’s decision to leave the UK.

“I’d been building momentum year after year, I’d moved to France directly after my Rio (Olympics) experience where that didn’t go so well and everything was leading towards Tokyo,” says the athlete, who was sixth in Brazil.

“I was just a winter season away (from Tokyo) and it was devastating for me when it (the postponement) happened.

“I felt personally victimised by Covid, but then it was like ‘so much is happening in the world and every single athlete is going through the same’ so you just have to adapt.”

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Her Achilles injury struck at the end of 2020 and at that stage Johnson-Thompson feared the worst. “When it happened, I thought it (reaching the Tokyo Olympics) was over,” she admits.

“The first thing any athlete does when they get an injury is they go on Google and see what the score is and I saw the recovery times for it and I thought it was instantly gone.

“The Achilles rupture is normally career-ending as it was on my take-off leg and high jump and long jump are my strongest events and the tendon pretty much split in half.

“The day after I started speaking to doctors and the British Athletics team and I was surrounded by people who believed I could make it (to the Games) in such a short space of time and from that point not once did I think I wouldn’t get there.”

The 29-year-old admits her experience in Tokyo “took its toll” but insists she is now “fully mentally and physically recovered” and recently returned to action with a seventh place finish at the iconic Götzis heptathlon event in Austria.

“Surgery, making the Olympics seven months later and then the Games took a lot and I fought hard for it, but I have no regrets. I put everything into it and that’s the same I’m doing now,” she states.

The heptathlete has swapped France for Florida since last year’s Games and is feeling confident ahead of a busy summer which also marks the two-year-to-go mark until the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“Training is going really well, the weather is amazing and I understand a lot more, like I can order coffee!” she says with a smile.

“All athletes want an Olympic medal, it would mean the world to me (at Paris 2024), but at the same time I just want to make myself proud of my performance.

“I love being an underdog and I always root for the underdog, so it’s good to have that label."


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