When the announcer called out Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s name in front of an 80,000-strong crowd at the London 2012 Juegos Olímpicos, the starry-eyed teenager mouthed “wow” as cheers erupted around her.
Entonces, the heptathlete was the apprentice to Jess Ennis-Hill, who went on to take gold while the 19-year-old Liverpudlian came 13th. But nine years later, as she approaches the possibility of competing in her third Olympics in Tokyo, KJT – as she is widely known – is wide-eyed no longer. The 28-year-old has been through dizzying highs, winning the world heptathlon title en 2019 and smashing Ennis-Hill’s British record, y mas que her fair share of lows.
Her fight for gold with the defending champion, Belgium’s Nafi Thiam, was expected to be one of the battles of the Games, but she has again facing uncertainty after being struck by an achilles injury at the end of last year.
Johnson-Thompson’s reaction to her selection for Tokyo – dependent on fitness – captured both her frustration, and her hope. “This sport is brutal at times, I don’t take for granted how lucky I am to be able to do what I love every day & to have people around me with the same vision & belief in me!” she tweeted.
This is far from the first challenge she has faced. At the 2015 world championships she fouled three times in a row in the long jump; en el 2016 Rio Olympics a quadriceps injury flare-up saw her miss out on a medal, while she was let down in the London 2017 world championships by a poor performance in the high jump. But she overhauled her training and her life in 2017, moving to Montpellier to train with Bertrand Valcin – which left her more rounded and less injury-prone.
Barrie Wells, a philanthropist who has supported Johnson-Thompson since she was 15, says she has always been “very, very ambitious”. “Even at that age she was obviously immensely talented and a ferocious competitor," él dice. As she has overcome hurdles in her career, she’s held on to a “Scouse, self-deprecating” sense of humour while building her resilience, he adds.
It is difficult not to wonder what a fully fit Johnson-Thompson, coming off the back of a world title victory in Doha, would have achieved if the Olympics had gone ahead as planned last summer. But the athlete knows better than to think about what might have been, says her agent Greg Kirkpatrick.
“The Katarina from yesteryear may have dwelled on the ‘what if?’ but now she is determined to put all her energy into the road ahead," él dice. “She is asking herself what she needs to do to get herself back to full health, be happy and is up for the next challenge. I feel confident – and she is confident – that she’ll be back out there competing for the major medals.”