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Katarina Johnson-Thompson: 'I wasn’t even considered a competitor going into World Championships'

Katarina Johnson-Thompson set three new personal bests and ran the ‘easiest 800m’ of her life to win gold at the World Athletics Championships. Now, all that eludes her is an Olympic medal…

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Heptathlon world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson reflects on a memorable 2023, her work as an ambassador for the Liverpool FC Foundation and her ambitions ahead of the Paris Olympics

In August, Liverpool's Katarina Johnson-Thompson won the second heptathlon world title of her career at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

But going into the Championships, the British record-holder for heptathlon says she felt like an underdog.

"I entered that competition really believing in myself," Johnson-Thompson told Sky Sports News. "I knew I was in good shape and I could do well. But I didn't really get written up in any of the articles pre-Champs, I didn't even get put on the GB poster going into it from World Athletics.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson, of Great Britain, celebrates after winning the gold medal in the heptathlon during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Image: Katarina Johnson-Thompson is targeting Olympics success in Paris next summer

"It was one of those things. I was like, 'oh I'm just not even considered as a competitor anymore."

Johnson-Thompson said overcoming that feeling and being so focused in the two-day, seven-discipline event was something that "absolutely drained" her.

"But it was something that had to be done," she said. "To get that belief in myself, it was purely because of the team I had around me."

The 30-year-old says the more people believe in her, the more she believes in herself, and feeling like she wasn't considered a top competitor going into Budapest motivated her to win the World Championships and show people "you do need to believe in me".

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"That's something I've been trying to change my whole career - the lack of confidence," she said. "I'm hopefully going into Paris with everyone's belief back, and hope for me to have this happy Olympics. I want to take that energy and grow with that energy of people wanting me to do well."

'It's been a hard few years'

In Budapest, Johnson-Thompson recorded personal bests in the javelin, shot put and 800m. Impressive at any point - let alone after rupturing her Achilles in 2020 and tearing a calf muscle in 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics, which forced her to withdraw.

"It's been a hard few years. But I'm just so happy I was able to claw back form and my competitive spirit and everything that it needed to win that medal," Johnson-Thompson said. "I still really can't put it into words. But I've still got that feeling of gratitude, happiness, excitement, just everything that comes with what happened."

So it's no surprise that going into an Olympic year, the goal is to stay injury free.

Great Britain's Katarina Johnson-Thompson celebrates winning her 100m Hurdles heat of the Women's Heptathlon during day six of the IAAF World Championships at The Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 2, 2019. See PA story ATHLETICS World. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No transmission of sound or moving images and no video simulation.
Image: Katarina Johnson-Thompson is a back-to-back heptathlon gold medallist at the World Athletics Championships

An Olympic medal is the only thing that eludes Johnson-Thompson, and although 2024 will be her fourth Games, she's already had her fair share of Olympic heartbreak. At Rio in 2016, Johnson-Thompson finished in sixth place, but in Tokyo, a devastating calf injury she suffered in the 200m crushed her hopes of an Olympic medal.

So how does she feel in the lead up to Paris 2024?

"I'm not thinking about an Olympic gold," she said. "I've spent the last two Olympic cycles thinking about an Olympic medal. It never went my way. And I think the best or most mature thing to use my experience with is just making sure I get there healthy.

Britain's Katarina Johnson-Thompson makes an attempt in the long jump of the heptathlon during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)..
Image: Johnson-Thompson took sixth in the Rio Olympics and didn't finish the event in Tokyo

"I'm just taking it day by day, week by week. And I don't know if that's a coping mechanism and I'm just lying to myself now because it is such an important moment in my life. But at the minute, I'm completely chilled, just trying to be the best I can be each day in training and then get there healthy.

"My coach always says he'll train me to win an Olympic medal or a world medal. But on the day that athletes decide which order that's going to be and that completely calms me. Budapest was such a happy bonus a year early that has given us so much confidence going into Paris now that we're doing the right thing."

Plus, she now has the experience of three Olympic Games to take with her to Paris. And competing with the best of the best is something Johnson-Thompson has always been used to after growing up with 2012 Olympic champion Jess Ennis-Hill.

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"Since I was 19 I've been competing against the best competitors in heptathlon in history," she added. "In 2012, Jess taught me so much expectation. And then she taught me so much again in 2016 about rivalry and pressure."

Although current Olympic champion Nafi Thiam did not compete in Budapest due to injury, the current depth of the heptathlon goes far beyond the Belgian. Just 20 points beyond Johnson-Thompson at the World Championships was Anna Hall, a 22-year-old from the USA.

"Nafi's taught me about consistency. She's one of the most consistently great heptathletes of our generation and we've had some battles in the past. You can never count out Nafi."

Giving back

Johnson-Thompson is also focused on staying healthy off the track. In 2020, the lifelong Liverpool FC fan partnered with the LFC Foundation, becoming an official ambassador - a unique role that she shares with fellow ambassador, Jurgen Klopp.

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Olympic heptathlete and Liverpool fan Katarina Johnson-Thompson discussed her love of the Reds ahead of their draw with Manchester United earlier this month

Her work with the Foundation also works with Johnson-Thompson's own academy to financially support local young people to allow them to do sport.

"Anyone who knows me knows how much I love LFC. It was the first sport I was exposed to," she said. "It's been a great partnership and it's a great time to expand into schools.

"The partnership came about when Covid happened and I was struggling to get into the tracks and to train. I was worried about a generation of lost athletes who didn't have the opportunity to have a career, because athletics has given me my whole life. If I wasn't an athlete I don't know what career path I would have gone down.

"So it's about giving back for me, I had help all at different stages of my career. So I just want to help kids in that sort of age where it would be quite easy for them to just drop out of the sport."

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