World 2019 heptathlon champion on mindset, motivation and medals ahead of the World Championships

Katarina Johnson-Thompson heads into Budapest with the knowledge that a world medal can help avenge some the struggles she has had over the past few years.

It’s four years since the 30-year-old became world heptathlon champion in the searing heat of Doha.

A year and two months later however, Johnson-Thompson ruptured her Achilles tendon. She made the start line at the postponed Tokyo Olympics but had to withdraw after the 200m due to a calf injury.

Heading into these world championships, Johnson-Thompson now has a spring in her step.

After winning the Commonwealth heptathlon title in Birmingham last summer, she earned herself 6556 points at this season’s prestigious Hypomeeting in Götzis – her best tally since winning the world title in 2019 – and then, at the UKA Championships and London Diamond League, recorded marks of 13.34 and 6.60m over the 100m hurdles and long jump respectively.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Mark Shearman)

“Everything’s been going steadily,” Johnson-Thompson says. “You know, progressing. I’ve had no real interruption, so I’m quite excited. And yeah, I’m in a really good place.

“I feel like anybody who’s won a major championships has the ability to say ‘I’ve done it before therefore, it can be done again’. I feel like that, even though I can’t remember it. But whenever I look back at videos, or see images of Doha, it just takes me back to that place in time and the frame of mind I was in. So it’s always a positive thing to look back. What has been done before can be done again. That’s the type of frame of mind I get myself into when I see those images.

“It makes you remember what it was like to conquer the world and whet the appetite to have another shot at it? Yeah, at any major champs everyone who goes to the start line always thinks, what if? Apart from me last year – I kinda knew I wasn’t in shape, so it was just like, ‘what’s gonna happen, more than if’? And so I’m really happy that in the past year, I’ve turned around and I’m hopefully in the mix. That’s all that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, in the mix.”

Johnson-Thompson’s path to a medal has perhaps been made easier with the withdrawal of double Olympic and world heptathlon champion Nafi Thiam.

Adrianna Sułek, who is a world indoor and European silver medallist in the pentathlon and heptathlon respectively, is also out of Budapest as she is pregnant.

Johnson-Thompson is not taking the competition lightly though. It still involves Anna Hall, who beat the Brit to the Götzis title with 6988 points, a total that put Hall fifth on the heptathlon all-time list.

Anna Hall (Getty)

“[Nafi] Thiam’s competition and major championship record has been insane. I know she wasn’t in Götzis, and she pulled out a couple of Diamond Leagues, but you could never count her out truly until she actually pulled out.

“But I still believe that the heptathlon is in the strongest place it has ever been from a pure depth point of view so nothing changes from from my perspective.

“The depth of the competition is as strong as it’s ever been. So how open is the heptathlon going to be? Before Thiam dropped out, I felt like it was very much like a head-to-head between Thiam and Anna Hall. And now I don’t know what it’s going to take to win a medal. I don’t know what it’s going to take to win. So that’s why I feel like it’s open.

“I could name five people who could finish between first, second and third. That’s what I mean by the depth. Whereas sometimes the heptathlon can be a two-person race and then everyone else is fighting for the bronze, I feel like this year is quite open and I don’t know where it’s going to go.”

Budapest will be Johnson-Thompson’s sixth world championships and she will be hoping that experience will be a factor when the competition gets going.

She states this is the “calmest I’ve ever been going into a championships”.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Nafi Thiam (Getty)

“In Doha it was exciting and I had a big battle,” Johnson-Thompson adds. “But with this one I feel completely calm and full of experience. I’ve done it so many times now and it never gets any easier. But you can approach it in a different manner.

“And I feel like this one, I’m just going to put all my experience into it and see where it gets me. And it’s always a stepping stone to next year, because ultimately the main goal of my career is to get an Olympic medal. This is maybe my last heptathlon before Paris – I don’t know if I’m going to do another one. So it’s like a full on dress rehearsal.

Johnson-Thompson’s move to coach Aston Moore last year has certainly paid off.

She now trains with Jazmin Sawyers, who joined up with Moore just after Johnson-Thompson. The pair have known each other since young kids, even before competing against each other at English Schools.

For Johnson-Thompson, it provides extra motivation. One example being when Sawyers claimed a stunning European Indoor long jump gold medal in Istanbul.

Jazmin Sawyers (Getty)

“You know, I’ve been competing against Jaz [Sawyers] since 2007,” Johnson-Thompson adds. “There’s videos of us, not just English Schools but in the young athlete leagues. It just feels right to be in the same training group and going for the same goals. So yeah, it just feels really good and she’s such a good energy and positive person to have around so it helps me out or too.

“When Jaz won that medal in Istanbul, I guess, you know, what that does to a group? How does that impact a training group when you know, one athlete wins a major medal like that?  I didn’t do an indoor season, I didn’t really know where my performances would be.

“So to see somebody from your group go out and just be firing on all cylinders and jump personal bests, it just gives confidence in the training programme and that you’re on the right track. And yeah, that was a really big moment for her and for Aston and the whole group and yeah, definitely elevated our focus, you know, post Istanbul.”

Is Johnson-Thompson approaching her peak now? The 2023 season proves that she goes into Budapest in the form that could see her challenging for the medals.

“You never know,” she says. “I’ve always been worried that 2019 was my peak, because then Covid happened and I had my Achilles rupture and the momentum I was building towards my peak got short changed and cut off.

“But I’m surprising myself more and more as the training sessions go on, and I’m happy with how I’m responding to trying to get back up there. So yeah, I’m hoping that there’s more to give.”

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