Briton takes pentathlon title on home soil at IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham
There was a moment on the last lap of the final event of the pentathlon where Katarina Johnson-Thompson demonstrated her fierce determination to win her first global senior crown. Leading the 800m and going for gold, the Briton’s nearest rival, Ivona Dadic of Austria, swept alongside her and tried to overtake, but Johnson-Thompson accelerated to maintain pole position. This was her title and she wasn’t going to be passed.
KJT, as she is known, surged away in style to win in 2:16.63 as she completed her graduation from European indoor to world indoor pentathlon champion. It was Britain’s first gold medal of these home championships in Birmingham and the crowds showed their approval by creating the loudest cheers of the four-day event so far.
“As always with multi events, it’s been up and down,” the 25-year-old said, still breathless from her 800m win. “It’s been a long day.
“Five events in one day is something I’ve not done for a while. But the crowd really helped me so thanks for coming out in the snow to support us.”
Johnson-Thompson held a 33-point lead over Dadic going into the final event and held she held her nerve over the final four-lap test. It meant Johnson-Thompson won the contest with 4750 as Dadic scored 4700 for silver.
Yorgelis Rodriguez took bronze in a Cuban record of 4637 followed by Eliska Klucinova of the Czech Republic, Erica Bougard of the United States and Xenia Krizsan of Hungary.
“I can’t believe it,” said Johnson-Thompson. “I’ve dreamt of this for so long and to do it here at a home world championships is incredible. It has been a long time coming but I am finally a senior world champion, so I am so happy. I just wanted my family to actually see me achieve something.”
The victory ended a run of disappointing championship performances for the Briton. In 2015 she appeared to have the world at her feet when she won the European indoor pentathlon title in Prague, beating Nafi Thiam of Belgium and coming within 13 points of Nataliya Dobrynska’s world record with 5000 points.
But later that year she had a long jump disaster at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, finishing 28th in the heptathlon, before improving to sixth in the Rio Olympics the following year and fifth at the IAAF World Championships in London in 2017 as Thiam claimed the mantle of world No.1 with Olympic and world titles.
A prodigious teenage talent who won world youth and world junior titles, some felt in recent years she was not going to fulfil her potential. But she proved her doubters wrong in Birmingham by dominating the world championships.
The frustrating championship results in the summers of 2015 and 2016 led to the Liverpool athlete moving to France to join a new coaching group led by Bertrand Valcin. The new set-up is clearly working, too.
Johnson-Thompson’s day did not start brilliantly as she finished a modest fifth in her 60m hurdles heat (and sixth overall) with 8.36 compared to her PB of 8.18. But from then on things only got better as she dominated the high jump, clearing 1.91m to gain valuable points over her rivals.
This meant Johnson-Thompson went into the third event, the shot put, with a slim lead over Bougard with Rodriguez third. The Briton is stronger in jumps and not so great in throws, but she produced a fine indoor PB of 12.68m to keep in contention for gold. Rodriguez, meanwhile, threw 14.15m and Bougard 12.31m, as Antoinette Nana Djimou of France led the pentathletes in this event with 15.52m.
“The shot put went best for me,” said Johnson-Thompson. “I’m so happy because my warm-up wasn’t good but I got an indoor PB which I was delighted with. It is an event I struggle with so to get a PB was amazing.”
With all five events squashed into a single day, the athletes then had a short break before coming back into the arena for the long jump. Here, Johnson-Thompson again showed her superiority with the best mark of all as she leapt 6.50m in the first and third rounds.
Then came the 800m, where Johnson-Thompson was not going to be beaten, even when put to the test in those crucial, closing stages.
The scene is set for a mouth-watering clash with world No.1 Thiam this summer in the heptathlon.
» For full coverage, see the March 8 issue of Athletics Weekly