Feature Liverpool, UK

After impressive 2012, Johnson-Thompson’s star continues to rise

Katarina Johnson-Thompson in London (Getty Images)Katarina Johnson-Thompson in London (Getty Images) © Copyright

27 November 2012 - Twelve months ago, Britain’s multi-events starlet Katarina Johnson-Thompson had only just begun jogging again after a serious knee injury which ruined two years of her blossoming career, but now she heads into the winter as a World junior champion and London 2012 Olympian after a remarkable record-breaking season.

The 19-year-old from Liverpool in the north-west of England recorded no less than 12 lifetime bests this summer, including an impressive 6267 British junior Heptathlon record, which catapulted her to the top spot in the world junior seasonal rankings and sixth on the all-time list.

The 6ft-tall ‘KJT’, as she is affectionately known, thus revised her 2011 personal best score by almost 500 points in what was arguably one of the breakthrough stories of the 2012 campaign, and truly ensured the banishment of her past injury woes. 

Guided by Mike Holmes, the 2009 World youth Heptathlon champion enjoyed a near-flawless summer, beginning with a 6007 total at the MultiStars meeting in Italy in May to break 2009 World champion Jessica Ennis’ national junior record, before collecting 6248 points at the IAAF World Combined Events Challenge meeting in Kladno, Czech Republic the following month to qualify for the London Games.

The latter performance was achieved courtesy of six personal best marks and an overall best by 241 points, showing great signs of promise for her Olympic debut, and Johnson-Thompson refused to rest on her laurels in the countdown to the Games by claiming a surprise Long Jump gold at the IAAF World junior Championships in Barcelona in July, with an eye-catching 6.51m lifetime best.

Entering the competition ranked only tenth, she pipped Germany’s European junior champion Lena Malkus by a single centimetre with a windy 6.81m, after narrowly missing out on a place in the 100m Hurdles final.

“Barcelona was pretty weird as I knew I was going to the Olympic Games at the last minute so doing the Heptathlon there would have been a compromise,” Johnson-Thompson explained.

“I flopped in the Olympic trials (in Birmingham in late June, where she recorded disappointing marks of 6.08m in the Long Jump, 1.77m in the High Jump and 13.78 in the 100m Hurdles) and it was a wake-up call.”

“Because of that, I worked really hard on my Long Jump and only went to Barcelona to gain consistency so I was made up with a PB. It was crazy winning as the 800m of the Heptathlon was happening at the same and it all happened so quickly. It was really surreal and very unexpected, I was over the moon.”

Inspired by Ennis, ‘Super Saturday’

Three weeks later and still riding on the crest of a wave, Johnson-Thompson announced herself on her senior international debut in the British capital by storming to an inspired fifteenth place in the Olympic Heptathlon behind Ennis’ gold-medal-winning antics.

Her 6267 national junior best in front of a fanatical 80,000-strong home crowd shot her to twenty-fourth on the global 2012 list, thanks to four individual lifetime bests of 13.48 (100m hurdles), 1.89m (High Jump), 23.73 (200m) and 2:10.76 for the final event, the 800m.

Now proudly sitting in fifth place on the British senior all-time rankings behind the new Olympic champion and the Sydney 2000 winner Denise Lewis, Johnson-Thompson – who finished only sixth in the 2011 European junior Heptathlon – is being hailed as ‘the next Ennis’.

“The crowd was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, they were really hyped up for every British athlete,” the prodigious youngster recalled.

“The call-up area was sound-proof so it was a crazy atmosphere when you got out into the stadium. My mum, nan and uncle were there but I wasn’t nervous until after the competition because I knew there were no expectations on me, I was just so happy to be there, I’m a very laid-back and smiley person.”

“I’m happy I got some PBs under so much pressure – I performed on the big occasion and it was just amazing, especially competing alongside Jess and on ‘super Saturday’. She inspired me a lot and I got emotional when she won, I’m inspired to be like her one day.”

Citing herself as ‘chronically indecisive so I’ve adopted the heptathlon’ Johnson-Thompson was indeed relieved to simply gain Olympic selection after suffering from ‘jumper’s knee’ during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

“I was on painkillers for it for almost all of 2011 so I had a PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) injection into the tendon in September and got back jogging in the November,” she revealed.

“It made getting to the Olympic Games all the sweeter - I never took making the Games for granted,  it was a dream I had but it was more for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, but with it being in London, I put my heart and soul into qualifying for it.”

Looking for ‘big points’ in Moscow

Following a two-month training break, Johnson-Thompson admitted that she was itching to return to the track last month after a holiday to the Bahamas and a whirlwind spell of celebrations and invitations to glittering events.

The most exciting of which she claims was the Team GB parade throughout the streets of London upon the completion of the Paralympics.

“The bus parade was the most amazing day – the crowds were never-ending, a million people turned out to support us,” she recalled.

“It was nice to rest as the year had put so much pressure on me both physically and emotionally and now everything’s still the same, it’s just that people have more respect for what you do.” 

Relishing her harsh winter training regime, Johnson-Thompson singles out the Shot Put and javelin as the key elements to work on throughout the off-season, before tackling a few indoor events in the New Year to sharpen up for the summer.

Having recently deferred her university studies until next autumn, when she will study Food and Nutrition at Liverpool John Moores University, Johnson-Thompson will target a medal at the European under23 Championships in Tampere, Finland next July and a big points score at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in August - both in the combined events competition.

“I’m only quite young so I’ve got lots to look forward to and now I’ve had a taste of the big events,” she explained.

“The Euros won’t be a walk in the park and a medal would be good. The Worlds is my main aim, I’d like to keep progressing and improve my throws and I would like good points in Moscow but I’m not thinking about a placing there.”

Looking further ahead in her development, Johnson-Thompson is understandably intrigued as to just how much further she can improve and following an outstanding 2012, has set her sights on establishing herself in the next Olympic cycle.

“Rio’s always been a target for me but it could be my time in 2020 when I’m hopefully at my peak and become Olympic champion,” KJT envisaged.

“It will also be insane to go back (to the London Olympic stadium for the World Championships) in 2017 where it all started for me as a senior.”

2012 will certainly be remembered as the year when KJT arrived on the senior stage with a bang, finally allowing Kat to get her well-deserved cream.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF