The Olympic heptathlon sixth-placer is still yet to announce a new coaching set-up after parting ways with Mike Holmes following Rio

Toni Minichiello has questioned Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s decision to split from coach Mike Holmes in the aftermath of her sixth-place finish in Rio.

The 23-year-old heptathlete went to Brazil as a contender to finish on the Olympic podium but, after coming home without a medal, opted to end her association with a coach who had guided her since 2008.

She is yet to announce her new coaching set-up and had been linked with Minichiello. However, the man who steered Jessica Ennis-Hill to Olympic gold in 2012 and silver this year told AW last month that he had not been approached and believes Johnson-Thompson listened to external voices in making her decision to split from Holmes.

“She may have made the ‘media popular’ decision, but I’m not sure it’s the right decision,” said Minichiello.

“You’re talking about somebody who was the best-sixth-placed Olympian we’ve ever had [she scored 6523 points]. You actually performed better than anyone has ever, ever performed in that position – so what was wrong with the situation?

“If I was to do a piece on Katarina I’d say you’ve made a populist choice based on people, I think, who don’t understand athletics well enough and who don’t understand the minutiae of heptathlon and all the rest of it.

“Let’s give Mike Holmes credit – because that kid has done some spectacular things. What Mike has done has been outstanding. He’s been undervalued and people have looked at it and judged little things. Until you walk a mile in his shoes you probably don’t realise how hard it is to balance seven events and get her to improve the throws – especially for somebody who is not a natural thrower.

“Mike has been massively undersold. He’s probably athletics’ coach of the year. You look at the performances and it’s like ‘hey, give the guy some respect – that’s been a brilliant job’. It’s just unfortunate that it’s ended in the way that it has because it’s disrespectful I think to the coach.”

“What Mike has done has been outstanding. He’s been undervalued and people have looked at it and judged little things”

Following Ennis-Hill’s retirement, the spotlight will shine even more on the Liverpudlian. There have been questions over her temperament, following three long jump fouls in Beijing last year and her disappointing throws in Rio, after breaking the British high jump record by clearing 1.98m.

Minichiello believes Johnson-Thompson can become a championship contender but warned that her chosen event, at which she has a PB of 6682 from 2014, will not get any easier.

“It takes 6600 minimum I think to get on the podium. She just needs to be in 6600 shape in a championships – and produce 6600. She’s capable of that,” said Minichiello.

“In Rio you had two stand-out performances – a 6810 that won gold, while silver was 6785 which would have won the World Championships in Moscow by about 150 points and outclassed the silver medallist in London 2012. And then it’s a bunfight for the bronze. And if you slip, you lose your bun.”

He added: “If you look at high jumper Katarina … First-time clearances up to 1.97m won the [Olympic] gold medal. She jumped 1.98m in Rio but it wasn’t the cleanest of performances. If she cleans that up, she can be a medallist in the high jump. However, she’s left the best high jump coach in the country.”

» A version of this article was first published in the October 20 edition of AW magazine