Katarina Johnson-Thompson overcomes heartbreak to win gold
Despite her unquestionable talents and potential, much of Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s career has been defined by heartbreak.
Disappointment at the World Championships in 2015 and the Rio Olympics in 2016 — in which she was expected to land a podium appearance but came away with nothing — prompted her to change coach, uprooting her life in Liverpool and moving to France.
More World Championship disappointment was to follow in 2017 as Johnson-Thompson — nicknamed KJT — underperformed in the high jump, one of her strongest events, to finish in fifth place overall.
On Thursday, all of those painful memories melted away to make space for a new joyous one, as she was crowned heptathlon world champion in Doha and broke the British record in the process.
“Everyone’s got their journey,” she said after securing gold. “It’s not been very straightforward for me. It’s not been easy for me. I had to move coach. I had to move country, I had to learn a new language and settle in. I tore everything up and started again and it’s worked.
“The last two world championships have been heartbreaking for my mum and I. Mid-heptathlon, I’ve gone back to my hotel and cried and cried for hours when things have gone badly.
“It was after the high jump in London in 2017 and after the long jump in 2015 in Beijing. Those were the low points of my career. Rio Olympics, as well. I’ve had a lot of bad years. I’m just so happy that I came out in front for a change.”
Johnson-Thompson amassed 6,981 points over the course of the two-day heptathlon event, beating Jessica Ennis-Hill’s British record which was set when she won gold at London 2012.
In truth, few had expected Johnson-Thompson to get the better of long-time rival Nafi Thiam; coming into Doha, the Belgian was undefeated since the 2016 European Championships.
But the 26-year-old Briton produced four personal bests to blow the competition away and edge ever closer to her lifelong goal of breaking the 7,000-point mark.
Her eventual margin of victory over silver medalist Thiam was 304 points, the biggest at a World Championships since 1987, though the Belgian appeared to be troubled by an elbow injury during the javelin.
“It doesn’t make sense to me honestly,” Johnson-Thompson told the BBC. “These whole two days, because they’ve been so fast and it’s been at nighttime, have actually felt like a dream with the lights and everything.
“It’s been unbelievable and I can’t believe this is the result. There have just been so many attempts of trying to perform on this stage and I’m just so, so happy. I couldn’t have done it without them [the disappointments].
“The low moments have helped me come back and make the move [to France], try to look within myself. This has been my dream, 7,000 points I’ve spoken about in the past as one of my main career goals.
“She [Thiam] is a phenomenal athlete, and she’s set the standard, I witnessed 7,000 points first through her, and she’s the one who has made that doable and has made that a requirement in order to win.
“She’s definitely raised the bar and I’m just glad I’ve been able to follow and step up.”