The rebirth of Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Aged 29, time is running out. But it is precisely that challenge which most excites her new coach Petros Kyprianou.

“The first time we met I said: ‘You’re probably the only one right now in the world that you have [world-record holder] Jackie Joyner-Kersee potential,’” he recalled. “’If there’s somebody that could challenge the world record, given you’re healthy and everything’s good, it’s you’.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else with that kind of ability. But unfortunately, she’s somebody who went through a lot.

“I would kill to have a healthy, young Kat. But if we can come off all the surgeries and all this bad luck together that’s going to be a lot sweeter than having an ultra-talented 21-year-old beast.

“I like to give analogies when I talk about athletes. She’s a Ferrari that went into a complete revamp of the super-powerful V12 engine. There’s a certain time to teach the engine when to function on high revs.

“She’s got a brand new Achilles on her jumping leg and that – whether psychological, physical and everything in between – needs some sort of adjustment.

“This is the beginning. She’s so hungry to see that light at the end of the tunnel, and I think it will start showing this weekend.”

It is more than 20 years since Kyprianou last came here to the Gotzis Hypo-Meeting, Austria’s unlikely mecca for multi-eventers, but he is back to oversee the newest addition to his group.

Following her departure from her former coach in France, Johnson-Thompson moved to America to train under Kyprianou at the start of this year, renting a bungalow five minutes from the Florida track that she trains on every day.

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Her body, she insists, feels better than it has for a long time, but she laughs when told that only four of the 23 women competing this weekend are older than her.

“That feels right to be honest. It’s how my body feels!” she said. “I’m joking… no I’m not.”

Tempering any thoughts that she might capitalize on the absence of double Olympic champion Nafi Thiam, who has also been struggling with injury, Johnson-Thompson says her overwhelming ambition in Gotzis is simply to complete her first heptathlon since 2019: “I’m going to finish no matter what.”

‘I knew it was going to be a challenge when I accepted working with her’

Kyprianou’s modest target of 6,400 is almost 600 points below her British record, but he insists what he really wants to see is her “just have fun” after an Achilles rupture that he describes as “arguably the worst injury in track and field”.

Only then can the serious aspirations materialize: the defense of her world title in July, another World Championships next year and the Paris 2024 Olympics. Three years to cement the legacy that her talent warrants.

“If it comes earlier it will be very welcomed,” said Kyprianou. “But I knew it was going to be a long challenge when I accepted working with her.

“Don’t get too excited when it doesn’t matter. The competitions that matter are in July of the next three years.

“If we end this year with something positive at the World Championships, that would be huge building into the next two years. Come 2024, that’s really what we’re working towards. It’s a long process.

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“I think she’s at the point where she’s at peace. I think she’s ready to have fun, and a person like that having fun is going to end up with something good.

Whether there is life on the track beyond the Paris Olympics remains to be seen. “I’ll only be 31, so who knows?” said Johnson-Thompson. “I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far, but I want more before I retire.

“I’m in the mindset where I just want to try and squeeze everything I can out of the next two years.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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