Johnson-Thompson ‘not panicking’ after third lowest score of career

Moments after Katarina Johnson-Thompson crossed the finish line here in Götzis after posting the third lowest heptathlon score of her glittering career, a shard of light broke through the darkened clouds and lashing rain. It rather matched her mood.

For while the bald facts of her performance – 6,174 points, more than 800 below her personal best – appeared deeply troubling for her chances of defending her world title in July, the 29-year-old athlete struck a defiant and optimistic note.

“Seven weeks is a long time in my world,” she said after her seventh-placed finish behind Anouk Vetter. “And I know I can turn this around.”

The message was clear: don’t panic – and don’t give up on her. Not when this was the first heptathlon she has completed since winning the worlds in October 2019, before two serious injuries to her achilles and calf in 2020 and 2021 threatened to poleaxe her career.

“I’ve been in worse situations before,” Johnson-Thompson said. “I’m walking away completely healthy. I don’t have to go into rehab now and worry about that. It’s disappointing but I am not panicking.”

The record books show that she has only posted a lower heptathlon score as a teenager before the London 2012 Olympics – and then at the 2015 world championships in Beijing, when she was forced to continue after scoring zero points in the long jump.

She knows some people will be quick to write her off. You sense she likes it that way. It will make her train even harder in the weeks ahead. “I love being an underdog and I always root for the underdog. So it is good to have that label.”

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Yet Johnson-Thompson, 29, must know she faces an uphill task to retain her world title. In Doha she scored 6,981 on the way to winning gold. A total of around 6,600 usually is good enough for a podium position. The brutal truth is that she has to find more than 400 points in the next few weeks.

“But I think I could have got extra points in the high jump, shot put and definitely the 800m,” she said. “And in the javelin there was a tricky crosswind too. So I think it’s all there. And I always show up for championships.”

Götzis has long been a multi-events mecca: the tiny Austrian town where Daley Thompson famously broke two world records in 1980 and 1982 and Jessica Ennis-Hill won three times before her London 2012 gold medal. Often there is alchemy in the rarified festival air. But amid conditions more akin to Liverpool in February than Austria on the verge of summer, Johnson-Thompson could not find her best form.

However there were at least signs of optimism on day two, with a solid long jump of 6.37m followed by a javelin throw of 40.78m – her best for nearly three years despite the rain lashing down and the temperatures plummeting towards single figures.

Holly Mills in the shot put in Belgrade in March 2022. Photograph: Darko Vojinović/AP

Conditions were even worse before the final event, the 800m, and Johnson-Thompson wisely took it easy, jogging around in 2:19:34 – 12 seconds slower than her personal best. Afterwards her highly regarded new coach Petros Kyprianou admitted that things had not gone entirely to plan but insisted there was still time to turn things around.

“When you support a champion, you have to support her in the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. “And right now we’re between bad and ugly. But I have said it 100 times, it is the major championship in July or August that matters.”

Kyprianou accepted Johnson-Thompson had fallen short of her pre-event target of 6,400 points. But he insisted it was entirely feasible for her to improve by an average of 50 to 60 points per event by July – and then challenge for a medal.

“I’m a bottom line guy,” he said. “I’m more realistic than optimistic. And 6,600 is the magic number for a medal. Kat likes when I give her the target numbers for each event. And honestly she missed it in every single event, except the 200m and got close in the javelin.

“But remember she started training very late – she only began jogging at the end of January. So getting 50 or 60 more points per event at the world championships is extremely realistic.”

Britain’s other competitor Holly Mills had a superb second day to finish a place ahead of Johnson-Thompson in sixth. After a 6.25m long jump, the 23-year-old threw a 39.07m PB in the javelin before a superb gun-to-tape 800m in 2:08:07 took her to a new personal best of 6,260 points.

“I wasn’t looking to beat her, or think about her beating me,” said Mills, who will skip the worlds in favour of a crack at the Commonwealth Games and European championships. “It’s quite an achievement to beat the world champion. She might not have been at her best but to do that is something cool that I can say.”