Katarina Johnson-Thompson: How heptathlete struck gold in Doha – BBC Sport

Johnson-Thompson before the start of the final event – the 800m – in the heptathlon at the World Championships in October
How Dina and Kat Struck World Gold – BBC One
Date: Sunday 31 May Time: 15:00 BST
Catch-up: Watch on BBC iPlayer

The most obvious opponent wasn’t the biggest threat to Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

Nafi Thiam arrived at last year’s World Championships as the reigning world, Olympic and European heptathlon champion. The serene six-foot queen of multi-eventing.

But as Johnson-Thompson recounts her thrilling coup in Doha, where she strung together a series of stellar performances to snatch the world crown, it is not Thiam who looms largest in the retrospective rear-view.

“It’s happening again,” she remembers thinking after her underwhelming opening shot-put attempts.

After she won the long jump to stretch well clear with only two events remaining, Johnson-Thompson couldn’t relax.

“I almost started to celebrate in my mind. I had to check myself, stop and say to myself, ‘you’ve done this before,” she remembers.

Even as she crossed the line in a final 800m that was more coronation than competition, the joy was tempered.

Katerina Johnson-Thompson and Nafi Thiam in the wake of their duel in Doha

“The overwhelming feeling people had for me, and it was probably matched for me, was relief,” she added in a special BBC One programme – How Dina and Kat Struck World Gold – to be shown on Sunday.

“When people see my talent, I have not met those standards in big competitions.

“I’m glad I was able to make the transition and prove to people who have believed in me that they were right.”

If Britain has traditionally loved a plucky loser, Johnson-Thompson has hated playing the role.

Four years before her win in Doha, her campaign at Beijing 2015 was crocked by three foul long jumps when in the silver-medal position.

A year later in Rio 2016, her javelin let her down.

In London 2017, her high jump result, nearly 20cm short of her personal best, gave up too much ground to Thiam.

Those accumulated disappointments have weighed heavy.

In Beijing, BBC reporter Phil Jones was moved to give Johnson-Thompson a consoling hug as she faced a sea of microphones with a thousand-yard stare and single-word answers.

For a year after she kept the image of her foot over-stepping the board as the screensaver on her laptop. Even now, she admits she has never been able to attack the board in the same way since.

For Johnson-Thompson, memories of those past defeats rattled the cage.

In the wake of her Rio 2016 disappointment, Johnson-Thompson sought a solution from outside her comfort zone, relocating from her native Liverpool to the south of France to work with multi-event specialist coach Bertrand Valcin.

It was the start of a four-year project to finally deliver on her potential in time for Tokyo.

It has run ahead of schedule. She has posted a new points personal best every year since the move, running Thiam closer than expected at the European Championships in Berlin in 2018 before finally toppling her in Doha.

A combination of her British multi-eventing heritage and new French-founded belief quelled the old doubts as she prepared for her third and final shot put in the Khalifa International Stadium in October.

“I knew in training it had been going well,” she remembered.

“And sometimes I think about Daley Thompson with his third discus throw at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. He had had two poor throws, but he went into the third whistling because he knew he wouldn’t make the same mistake three times in a row.

“I tried to take inspiration from that.

“Meanwhile Bertrand, who had been helping [French decathlon world-record holder] Kevin Mayer over the other side of the stadium came running over and passed on some feedback to make some changes.”

After being reminded to clear her mind of all but the basics, Johnson-Thompson threw a personal best 13.86m

Now, she is looking ahead, rather than at the opposition or competitions past.

She believes she has the ability to improve further on the British record she took from Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

“Doha was not perfect by any means. I got boxed in at 250m in the 800m. I was in the best shape of my life. I should have front run and trusted in my abilities,” she adds.

“I could have run faster and got a better score.”

She may need to. The elbow injury that hindered Thiam in Doha will be fixed by the time the postponed Olympics come round in 2021. And it will be Johnson-Thompson that she and the rest are aiming for.

For now though, she is stocking up on some home comfort during lockdown limbo, burning through lactic sessions on Camp Hill next to her old school in Liverpool, chilling out with her dachshunds Chorizo and Bronx, painting and doing jigsaws.

Then, once restrictions are lifted, it will be back to France to align the pieces for a shot at Olympic gold.

Stay In With: Katarina Johnson-Thompson shares her isolation tips

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