WRITTEN FOR THE LONDON 2017 WEBSITE ON BEHALF OF BRITISH ATHLETICS
Two and a half years ago, Katarina Johnson-Thompson made her senior major championship debut at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and now – two and a half years out from London 2017 – she finds herself in a strong position for heptathlon glory back inside the same stadium.
It is a five-year circle which the 22-year-old athlete hopes will take her from the fresh-faced 19-year-old who finished 15th on her first Olympic appearance to the title of world champion at the venue which holds many happy memories for the Liverpool athlete.
Since propelling herself into the athletics spotlight at the Games, Johnson-Thompson has captured the European under23 heptathlon title and most notably, finished a fine fifth in the IAAF World Championship multi-event discipline in 2013.
2014 was a mixed year for the Mike Holmes-coached athlete, having started her campaign with IAAF World Indoor Championship long jump silver only to then be forced to miss both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships with a foot injury.
Johnson-Thompson did however finish the summer as the world’s top-ranked heptathlete of the year, courtesy of her breakthrough 6682 lifetime best victory in Gotzis to place third on the British all-time list.
The 2015 season has started with a bang for ‘KJT’ following her British indoor record-breaking 1.97m high jump victory and her 8.25 personal best for fourth place in the 60m hurdles at the Sainsbury’s Indoor British Championships in Sheffield last weekend.
She is yet to decide whether to contest the pentathlon at next month’s European Indoor Championships in Prague, but Johnson-Thompson is certain of her London 2017 goal – to capture the gold medal.
Having taken the 2009 IAAF World Youth heptathlon and 2012 IAAF World Junior long jump titles, Britain’s bright starlet is determined to translate her superb form onto the world stage.
With the London 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Stratford in August 2017 her big aim, Johnson-Thompson must first negotiate the 2015 global event in Beijing and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“I try to take it event by event but this is the best I’ve ever started my season so it bodes well for Beijing,” she explained.
“It encourages me to be seen as a gold medal hope there (for London 2017) but I need to get there first – I try not to take anything for granted after missing the major championships last year so I need to focus on getting there in one piece rather than thinking about the pressure of performing well there.”
On returning to the East London stadium, Johnson-Thompson continued:
“To be back there five years later is crazy – I’ll be a lot older, more mature and hopefully coming into my stride so I’m looking forward to those world championships, I’ve been thinking about it since London 2012.
“It will be strange because even though I did the London Anniversary Games in 2013 (where she won the long jump), I think the British public will more remember me being that young athlete who was overwhelmed so it’ll be weird to go back as a mature adult seeking a medal.”
Ahead of the London reunion with team-mate and 2012 Olympic champion, Jessica Ennis-Hill, she said:
“I’ll go into it hoping to win but you can never predict these things – Jess will hopefully be in incredible shape. I just have to concentrate on my own performance – I’ll be 24 so I’ll be in my prime.
“Even though I was involved in 2012, it was a bit before my time so it’ll good to use the experience I got there to win a medal in front of a home crowd – there’s nothing better than that. It will be nice to go back, do well and get that home support going again.”
Aware of the stiff opposition in addition to Ennis-Hill that she will face as well as the pressure to perform in the British capital, Johnson-Thompson revealed:
“I take each year at a time and try not to get too wrapped up in what scores I hope to be hitting, it messes with your head so I just aim to always be competitive.
“Dafne (Schippers, the world bronze medallist), Brianne (Theisen-Eaton, the world silver medallist) and Nafissatou Thiam (European bronze medallist) should be there so it’s not safe.
“London 2017 means going full circle for me – coming back to a home crowd and hopefully having a chance to medal this time will be very special.”