Katarina Johnson-Thompson clinches stunning World Championship gold as she secured the top heptathlon crown… despite injury setbacks at Tokyo 2020
The end of the world for the lionesses of England, the best of the world for a Cat seemingly out of life. What a remarkable act of resurrection. And what a fantastic athlete. Katarina Johnson-Thompson, jack of all trades, master of her sport, champion again.
And after so much. After all those tears and all those breaks and that wheelchair in Tokyo and those thoughts in a broken mind that it was all over.
But it wasn’t. Glorious and in brilliant golden hues on a scorching night in Budapest, it wasn’t. So she buried her face in the hot, red surface of the track and cried again, but here they were different. They were the tears of a double gold medalist, four years and an eternity after her first win.
“The best day of my life,” she called it after beating the great American hope, Anna Hall. But as always with Johnson-Thompson, she left the book open.
“I’ve made up my mind to have my heart broken again, but this time I didn’t,” she added.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson made a strong comeback and won gold at World Championships
It came down to the last 800 meters on Sunday night, with Johnson-Thompson bettering her personal best to finish just behind American Anna Hall in the final moto, securing the gold spot.
And then there was more, “I just thought I’d fade into the background and just be one of those athletes who’s just there to make up the numbers and that’s the last thing I wanted.”
Between all the baring of the soul, and especially when she saw Aston Moore, her third coach in two years, there were times when more tears poured in. But who could have blamed her after delivering one of the best career comebacks in British sport’s recent history?
That’s more true of the wider context of her suffering than the trials of this heptathlon, but even with regard to the latter, beating Hall was indeed a great recovery. And such a great theater too.
She had started Saturday with a disappointing run in the 100m hurdles to sit 10th, and moved up to fourth via the high jump, but a 13.65m effort with the shot dropped her back to fifth. She was unhappy, she was sinking. She posted numbers similar to when she finished eighth at the world championships in Eugene last year, one of those lows she’s been looking forward to.
But then things started to turn – she finished the first day with a torrid 23.48 second run in the 200m to take second again.
Then she started to think it might happen. A key element at this stage was Hall, as at the age of 22, and with all the potential to rule this demolition derby of an event, she struggled with a knee injury. Poor girl, the world’s reigning silver medalist has had her own battles with her body and so she wasn’t at her best.
For the rest of us, that meant a great second day of opportunity, which Johnston-Thompson started with a long jump of 6.54m – her best in a heptathlon since 2019. She was now in first place, but that meant javelin throw was the next wash. .
At times in her career, she seemed more inclined to spear herself than to collect significant points, and this in a discipline where Hall is stronger. But with an almighty swipe, Johnson-Thompson delivered a two-yard personal best of 46.16 yards. Hall sat more than three feet behind her and hugged her coach with sadness written on her face—it moved away from her.
Johnson-Thompson’s remarkable return to the top is impressive as she suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and calf injury in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics that forced her to retire after day one
Previously, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita opened their 100-meter challenge with minimal fuss. Neita, in run one, ran 11.03 seconds while Asher-Smith followed her in run two to clock 11.04 seconds
That brought us to the 800m. The last event of seven. Johnson-Thompson led Olympic silver medalist Anouk Vetter by 26 points, but that wasn’t the threat – to go through personal bests, Johnson-Thompson had 10 seconds over the Dutch, so the real problem was Hall. The American was 43 points behind but 4.3 seconds ahead on paper, and the math meant Johnson-Thompson had to finish within three seconds for gold. That’s devilishly close.
As Johnson-Thompson walked to the track, something caught her eye. “I’ve seen the video montage of the previous winners,” she said. “I saw myself and it really grabbed me and I felt calm.”
She was a younger, stronger woman then, in Doha in 2019. She had already experienced a mountain range of highs and lows in her sporting life, but that was before she tore her Achilles tendon in her jumping leg in 2020. and before she somehow got into contention at those 2021 Tokyo Games only to tear up the calf muscle. That was before she broke off a move to America, before she flirted with post-Eugene retirement, and before she found Moore.
Today she’s 30 and her gift is more grit than style. This woman they used to call flaky. Who they said was a bottler. But what nonsense. And so when Hall, a 2:02 800m runner at her best, took off like a train, ticking off the first lap in 58 seconds, Johnson-Thompson pushed himself to previously unknown speeds to keep the margin within 20 metres.
With 200 yards to go, it looked like Hall had made enough of a gap. But fought back against Johnson-Thompson because that’s what she does. She passed in 2:05.63, another huge personal best, and just 1.54 seconds in favor of Hall. She fell to the floor and cried, knowing that her 6740 points had done the job by Hall’s 20.
They are not vintage numbers and they didn’t have to be. Katarina Johnson-Thompson is world champion for the second time.