Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s twitter bio, says: ‘Chronically indecisive so I’ve adopted two surnames & the heptathlon.’ But at the Khalifa International Stadium on Thursday night, there was no sign of any indecisiveness from the British athlete, as she finally put an end to the heartaches she suffered at multiple World Championships and at the Rio Olympics.
The 26-year-old set personal bests in four of the seven events in a mentally and physically draining heptathlon over the course of two days, to finally land a world title in Doha.
Johnson-Thompson not just had to overcome her own demons but also had to beat Nafissatou Thiam, the Belgian defending world and Olympic champion, who was undefeated since the 2016 European Championships.
In the end, the gap between Johnson-Thompson and Thiam was a huge 304 points, the biggest winning margin of victory at a World Championships for 32 years. Such was her dominance that she also climbed to sixth in the all-time lists and set a new British record with a total tally of 6,981 points. Thiam had to settle for silver with 6,677pts with Austria’s Verena Preiner taking bronze with 6,560pts.
“I’m just speechless. I can’t believe it. It’s been such a long time coming for me. I’ve been chasing this since 2016, slowly, slowly trying to make improvements, and now I’ve finally done it,” a delighted Johnson-Thompson said.
“And I broke the British record. I was there on the sidelines when Jess (Jessica Ennis-Hill) set that record so to say it is now mine is unbelievable. This is my fourth World Championships and at the first one, I was just 20 years old, then, at the other two, I was not doing well.
“So I was so happy to compete here and I have to thank all the team standing behind me and believing in me. It all goes to my family, friends and the people who were helping me in the past. My mum - I think we are going to cry in the mixed zone. Now for Tokyo Olympics. I just need to be at my best like I was here,” she added.
After the disappointment of 2015 Worlds and 2016 Rio Olympics, Johnson-Thompson had to make some tough life decisions. She changed her coach and moved her base from Liverpool to France. But she suffered another ignominy, this time at home, when she finished fifth at the 2017 London Worlds.
“Everyone’s got their journey,” she said. “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,” she added.
In Doha, Johnson-Thompson started her quest for gold with an impressive performance in the 110m hurdles, where she shaved off 0.20 seconds from her previous best to win her heat in 13.09s.
“The hurdles was the biggest surprise. I never dreamt I could run that fast, 13-zero, when I’ve been stuck at 13.3 for as long as I can remember. That set me up for the heptathlon as soon as I saw the clock stop at that time. The most challenging event was the 200 because of the tight schedule and we didn’t get a chance to warm up properly,” she said.
Johnson-Thompson was in touching distance of going past 7000 mark as she began the final event of the heptathlon – the 800m. A time of 2:06 seconds would have enabled the world indoor pentathlon champion to achieve the 7k landmark, but she crossed the finish line in 2:07.27, which was enough to erase Ennis Hill’s seven-year-old British record.
“I love the 800m, funnily enough. It is one of my strongest events,” as Johnson-Thompson explained her approach towards her final event.
“I have been training very hard for it this year. The light show before it got me psyched to go. I train very hard week in, week out for it so all that has to be for something. It’s a good way to finish off a heptathlon for me, to just go out and put it all on the line. Seven thousand points wasn’t meant to be but hopefully I am on a roll now for the future.”
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